FORMER Zimbabwe captain Kennedy Tsimba says there is no need to panic after a Sables training squad lost two matches last week to the Under-19 and select sides of South African rugby franchise Blue Bulls during a camp in Pretoria.
Touring as Zimbabwe President’s XV, Peter de Villiers’ men stepped up preparations for their opening Africa Gold Cup tie against Morocco in Harare on June 16 by spending a week at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.
Losing 41-21 to Bulls Under-19s and 38-7 to Bulls Select at Loftus B Grounds however sparked concern back home over the side’s readiness to launch a successful 2019 World Cup bid.
But Tsimba, the first black captain of the Sables and a World Rugby Hall of Famer, said the matches were only for practice purposes, hence squad gelling was more important than the results.
The wisdom of playing against an Under-19 side was particularly questioned, with the result amplifying concern over the strength of the team.
“It has been taken out of context,” Tsimba defended the move, saying such matches were still part of the game’s tradition as much as it offered the Zimbabweans good practice opportunity.
“The match wasn’t a full match. There were no scrums and stop-starts where you choose set-plays. The referee didn’t even take the score. Besides, the Springboks had a scheduled similar match against Varsity Under-21 last week. It’s common. The fact is that those Under-19s will be playing Super Rugby in a year or two.”
Tsimba, who is the director of rugby at St Alban’s College, hosted the Zimbabwe squad at the prestigious Pretoria-based school, where players mingled with students and signed autographs.
The Free State Cheetahs legend, who is also a member of the Sables Trust, is confident the Zimbabwean side left the training camp much more prepared for the clash with North Africans Moroccans at Harare Sports Club in a fortnight.
“Camp went really well. Players got to know each other better had some good time with coach PDV and the management,” said the former flyhalf maestro.
“I was really impressed by their commitment in attack and defence. Communication was also good. What we must improve on is to kick start our play from the beginning of the game rather than being slow with a strong finish. Otherwise we have a good squad depth, exciting runners and a good kicking game.”
The 43-year-old Kwese TV rugby pundit, who played just six Test matches for Zimbabwe before embarking on a successful professional career in Europe and South Africa, was not able to single out any players for praise due to the nature of the camp in South Africa.
“As the matches were practice type of matches plus combination rotation, one couldn’t really see players in full flight,” said Tsimba. “But I’m really looking forward to the first match against Morocco to see players stand up as the road to the World Cup begins.”
Zimbabwe is traditionally not short of offensive flair in the backline, but a real area of concern for the team is in the forwards. While the Sables will have two or three players who set the physical tone upfront, they are not always able to sustain levels of aggression across the entire pack throughout a game.
Tsimba reckons Zimbabwean players have sufficient skill and a good rugby brain to compensate for the lack of size.
“We will have to work hard on team dynamics, well-balanced combinations for the forward set-phases, so that we can counter size with smart technical strategies,” Tsimba said. — Staff Writer.