LEGENDARY Zimbabwean rugby player Kennedy Tsimba has tipped his country to reclaim its position at the top in Africa, saying the current “positive mood” in the game could be a catalyst to success.
The iconic flyhalf and Currie Cup record-holder, one of only three black people on the World Rugby Hall of Fame alongside Nelson Mandela and his own brother Richard Tsimba, last week accepted a voluntary position on the Sables Trust, a welfare body set up to help Zimbabwe’s national side qualify for its first World Cup in 28 years.
Headed by Harare-based lawyer Gerald Mlotswa, Tsimba’s role on the committee include strategising the pathway for this year’s crucial Africa Cup (which serves as the 2019 World Cup qualifiers), identifying and securing top-class Zimbabwean players scattered across the globe, availing elite training programmes, sourcing warm-up matches, strengthening ties with South Africa, amongst others.
Rugby, as with most of Zimbabwe’s way of life, has suffered stagnation for years due to the socioeconomic crisis that has ravaged the country since the late 1990s.
Tsimba, in a wide-ranging interview from South Africa this week, believes the time has come for Zimbabwean rugby to be a force to reckon with again.
World Cup qualification will be the launch pad, but that can only be achieved, he says, if Zimrugby restores its proud tradition and makes itself attractive to top-quality players plying their trade in professional set-ups.
“We have a very good chance,” said Tsimba, Zimbabwe’s first-ever black captain. “We really have talented players. If we can restore that old rugby culture and inspire all to come play for the ‘green-and-white hoops’, then we will be going to Japan 2019.”
Zimbabwe was the first African country to play at Rugby’s World Cup. With superpower South Africa under sporting sanctions, the Sables were the only team from the continent at the first two World Cups in 1987 and 1991 — via special invitation from the game’s global governing body. Following readmission, South Africa would go on to win rugby’s third-ever World Cup, which they hosted in 1995.
With one slot now reserved for the rest of Africa through qualification, surprise package Cote d’Ivoire prevailed from the continent and were among the teams at South Africa 95.
Since 1999, Namibia have been sealing Africa’s sole qualification ticket to the World Cup. It is something Tsimba is trying to help change.
A certain World Cup squad member for the Springboks in his heyday had it not been for eligibility complications stemming from the six Test caps earned with Zimbabwe, the former Free State Cheetahs maestro is however determined to help others realise an opportunity he never had.
“It’s all about giving others a chance,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to assist young players with dreams. That has become a great motivation for me to still be involved in the game. First, we have to start by technically analysing the past three years of Sables seasons and restructure our playing culture. Database for all our players around the world will be key to this process. In doing this, we have to bear in mind that the forthcoming season won’t be easy as the other teams have developed well and have become competitive. So player database is key. There are a lot of young players making their mark around the world.
Hence why I think early communication with them and supplying them with a comprehensive plan is important.”
Tsimba (43) currently works as director of rugby at St Albans College, one of South Africa’s most prestigious private schools.
One of the most respected voices in South African rugby, Tsimba had a contract with SABC as a television pundit before being snatched by newly-established network Kwese Sports last August.
Zimbabwe is presently hunting for a new coach, with the national association setting its sights on a high-profile name from outside. One of the targets, Englishman, Collin Osborne, has received the thumbs-up from Tsimba. Osborne is said to have great affinity to Zimbabwe, having worked as the country’s director of development in the 1980s and then as national coach between 1993 and 1996.
Be that as it may, the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) will be hard-pressed to lure Osborne away from English Premiership club Harlequins, where he is the skills coach. “Collin stands out for me in that group as he is one of the pioneers that steered the black rugby culture leading towards our first World Cup in 87. His club commitments in England could be a challenge though,” said Tsimba, whose late older brother Richard was Zimbabwe’s first black international and only player of colour in the Sables’ 1987 World Cup squad.
“But I’m sure the right man for the job will be sourced as there is a positive mood in Zimrugby right now. We need a coach who is technically sound and has succession plans because sports success is based on long-term strategies. What’s really important at this juncture is that we need to install long-term systems for our young talent to flourish. Then results will take care of themselves.”
With his hands full in South Africa, Tsimba himself is out of the picture for a coaching role within the Zimbabwe set-up.
But he says the country is blessed with an array of knowledgeable personnel who can ably assist the new head coach.
“We do have some excellent young local coaches,” he said. “Bob Mahari, Doug Trivella, Gordon Pangeti, to name a few. If we can surround this type of talent with a good mentor, then the system will start to take care of itself in years to come.”