THE off-field hysteria surrounding Peter de Villiers’ appointment as coach of Zimbabwe will soon die down as the former Springboks boss gets down to the real business of assembling a squad capable of taking back the country to the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1991.
By Enock Muchinjo
De Villiers got an early understanding of what sport means to the people of this country — the passion, the expectation and the weight of disappointment all rolled into one.
The South African sat in the VIP enclosure last week as a packed Harare Sports Club watched in horror, witnessing their World Cup dream being so cruelly crushed by — of all teams — a United Arab Emirates outfit that had nothing but pride to play for.
As he left the cricket stadium on Thursday, de Villiers must have felt some kind of pressure, that his team, the Sables — more than any other time in history — has to be the one to bring cheer to long-suffering Zimbabwean sports fans and particularly atone for the cricket disappointment.
Top-quality players dotted around good domestic competition in the world will play hugely crucial roles in the Sables’ quest, and more and more are raising up their hands to play at international level under one of the most astute rugby brains in the world.
Possessing quality in key positions will make a world of a difference for de Villiers, and he will look to strengthen the areas known to be historically problematic for Zimbabwean rugby, such as the second row.
It is, therefore, a cause of excitement for the Sables that someone like Eli Snyman, a Blue Bulls giant lock forward and former South Africa Under-20 star, is being persuaded to give up his Springboks dream to help his homeland qualify for its first World Cup in 27 years.
Harare-born Snyman started all five matches for the Junior Boks at the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship in England, and the legendary Kennedy Tsimba, who has been talking the ex-St John’s kingpin into returning home, knows there is a slight challenge.
“If you play South Africa Under-20, you are next in line (to play for the Springboks),” said Tsimba this week.
“No doubt about that.”
No one can begrudge Snyman any Springbok ambitions. 10-time capped Bok scrumhalf Ross Cronje patiently waited for his opportunity when his twin Guy was answering the call from across the Limpopo in 2014.
At 22, Synman could also feel he has time on his side so can wait.
But an early Test career with Zimbabwe, under a world-class coach, and with the World Cup a real possibility — can be sufficient incentive for most players in those situations to accept Sables invitations.
Also, when all has been said and done, despite the queue for locks being worryingly short in South African rugby at the moment, getting into the Springboks reckoning is still no easy stroll.
In the current Boks second-row department — the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager are all older than Snyman, but they are also young enough to be around for a very long time to come.
And with Currie Cup caps having been infrequent for Snyman at Blue Bulls, Boks selectors will likely look elsewhere if cover is required — which for Zimbabwe is good news.