ZIMBABWE have gone for broke in the quest to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup by targeting former coaches of the All Blacks and Springboks to take charge of the national side.
By Enock Muchinjo
Once a dominant force in African rugby, Zimbabwe are hoping to land either former South Africa coach Peter de Villiers or ex-New Zealand boss John Mitchell, with British coach Collin Osborne among the three earmarked for the vacant post.
De Villiers, the first person of colour to coach his country, left the Springboks job in 2011 after Australia eliminated the South Africans from the World Cup that year at the quarter-final stage.
A colourful and controversial character, De Villiers looks the most likely to accept the Zimbabwe offer.
The 60-year-old, who led South Africa to 2009 Tri Nations success, has been without a major coaching post since leaving the Boks position in 2011.
Currently, De Villiers is the director of rugby at the University of Western Cape, where he has coached Zimbabwe international Njabulo Ndlovu.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) will bank on De Villiers and Mitchell’s familiarity with the country in their bid to secure the signature of either one of them.
In 2014, the two — alongside ex-Bok hooker Chiliboy Ralapelle — were in Zimbabwe for coaching clinics organised by sports marketing firm Kyros Sports.
The Sables job could also be the next chapter in New Zealander Mitchell’s nomadic coaching career, which has taken him from his home country to England, Australia, South Africa and the United States.
In addition to the All Blacks, Mitchell’s other top coaching roles have been as forwards coach of England’s national side and then as head coach of Super Rugby franchises Western Force of Australia and South African outfit Lions.
As a player, Mitchell played six times for the All Blacks, although none of them had Test status.
Zimbabwe is hoping to entice the well-travelled Kiwi from South African domestic side Blue Bulls, who he was only able to guide to a fourth position finish in the Currie Cup this past season.
To join the Bulls, Mitchell had left his post as national coach of the United States in not-so-clear circumstances.
The decorated international coach — who had an 83% win record in charge of the All Blacks between 2001 and 2003 — had been contracted in 2016 to coach the USA Eagles up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe also have eyes on Briton Collin Osborne, who was the country’s national coach between 1993 and 1996.
Before coaching the Sables, Osborne had previously worked in Zimbabwe as the country’s director of rugby and development from 1987 to 1990.
St Kitts-born Osborne, the only black coach at the top-end of English rugby, currently works as skills coach for Premiership side Harlequins — a club he has been with in different roles for more than 20 years.
The Sables will play five Africa Cup Tests against Morocco, Kenya, Tunisia, Namibia and Uganda next year. The winner of the competition, on top of being crowned champions of the continent, will automatically qualify for the 2019 World Cup finals in Japan.