NEW Zimbabwe rugby coach Peter de Villiers has reached out to several players with Zimbabwean roots with the intention of including them in his squad for this year’s crucial Africa Cup, which also serves as a qualifier for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
By Enock Muchinjo
After he was unveiled in Harare a fortnight ago, the former Springboks coach flew back to South Africa two days later — meeting previously capped Zimbabwe players and at the same time convincing the uncapped young crop to boost their country of origin’s bid to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1991.
De Villiers’ recruitment drive will be made much easier following appointments by the ZimbabweZimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) this week of consultants in the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Province areas to help identify gifted players eligible to play for the Sables.
Cape Town-based consultant Jason Maritz, a former Zimbabwe schools star player, has provided the ZRU with a list of nine players who could fit in de Villiers’ plans.
All but one ply their trade in the Western Province Super League A. False Bay hooker Royal Mwale is the only one who has either had a consistent run with Zimbabwe before, or has been Test-capped at all.
Mwale is currently enjoying a stint in Portugal, but perhaps the most interesting name on the list is that of his False Bay teammate, the 36-year-old flyhalf Piet Benade.
Benade, who earned Currie Cup caps for Western Province in the early 2000s, is best remembered by adoring fans in this country for his dazzling skills for Harare’s Prince Edward School, where he teamed up with the record-breaking Springbok Tonderai Chavhanga.
His professional commitments in South Africa, coupled by the state of decay in Zimbabwean rugby at that time, meant Benade was not available for the Sables, making only a single appearance off the bench in a low-key international in 2007.
Benade plays less these days, spending most of his time coaching False Bays’ second team and Sevens side. Age is certainly not on his side and constant injuries have set his career back, but the arrival of a world-class coach in Zimbabwe has revived some interest.
“I had never considered a proper comeback until Peter came here and spoke to the Zim boys,” Benade said this week.
“I later sent him a message saying I would be available as a player if he felt there was an issue at (number) 10. If there are no youngsters good enough, I will try help out. I have never really fully retired and I’ve played social rugby the last two years. I told Peter I will get fit and try make the side.
“I’m not in terrible shape and feel with hard work, which I’m busy with right now, I may be able to contribute on or off the field. If I do make the (Zimbabwe) squad now it will be a run-on debut at 36! I have had three shoulder operations but they are feeling pretty strong now. So honestly, I am feeling okay. A few niggles I need to get over, but there is definitely a chance I can help out.”
For quite a while now, Zimbabwe has not had a player staking a claim for the number 10 jersey on permanent basis, with the likes of Tichafara Makwanya, Lenience Tambwera and Boyd Rouse all filling in on different occasions.
If a younger natural choice is not found, de Villiers could consider giving the veteran Benade a try-out, hoping that his experience — five Western province Super League titles under his belt — will come in handy.
A younger number 10, though, is on the list drawn by Maritz. It is Josh Worsely, a squad member for Zimbabwe Schools at the 2014 Craven Week. He studies in Cape Town and plays for False Bay.
Benade, additionally, had high praise for another False Bay player and Sables target, openside flank Michael Botha.
South African-born Botha’s parents hail from Zimbabwe.
“He is good all-round,” remarked Benade. “He has very explosive and high work-rate, and good leadership attributes too. I will try bring him to Victoria Falls (for the Kwesé Sports Victoria Falls Sevens).”
Also listed by Maritz from the Western Province championship are the rising Zimbabwe Sevens starTapiwa Tsomondo (False Bay) alongside utility back Martin Mangongo (Hamiltons), the currently unattached lock Kudakwashe Nyakufaringwa and Union Milnerton wing Henry Chuma.
Meanwhile, Collin Osborne, the skills coach of English Premiership club Harlequins — who was also interviewed for the Sables post — is assisting the ZRU locate players in the UK.
Osborne has great affinity for Zimbabwe, having coached the Sables in the 1990s.
Sables loose forward Andrew Rose will scout for players in the United States, where he is now based, with Ian Lindsay looking out for good Zimbabwean talented in Australia and New Zealand.
Zimbabwe open their Africa Cup account against Morocco at home on June 16. Before that, SouthAfrican Barbarians are being courted to tour for two ties in March, after which the Sables will have a training camp in the Gauteng area in South Africa.