“Let’s first wait for the 16th of June and see.”
By Enock Muchinjo/ Daniel Nhakaniso
This was Peter de Villiers’ (pictured) response to a reporter during his unveiling ceremony back in February after the former Springbok coach was asked if he genuinely believed Zimbabwe had the pedigree to qualify for the World Cup.
June 16 looked like a very distant future back then and now, four months after Zimbabwean rugby basked in rare global spotlight following de Villiers’ appointment as Sables coach, rugby fever comes to the country as the serious business of 2019 World Cup qualifications starts.
The Sables’ first opponents tomorrow in the Africa Gold Cup, which is also acting as the World Cup qualifiers, are unknown quantity Morocco, who Zimbabwe last played and defeated 16-0 in Casablanca in 1998.
And quite like how he has gone about his business since arriving here four months ago — investing confidence in a system and country not many men of his calibre would be seen anywhere near — de Villiers has put his head on the block by announcing yesterday a starting line-up very few would have predicted.
It is a truly brave move indeed by de Villiers, a big confidence show in the players — the majority of who were part of the disastrous last two Africa Gold Cups, two horrendous seasons which left Zimbabwe as the lowest-ranked team in this crucial World Cup qualification competition.
The South African named four Test debutants in the starting line-up for tomorrow in the form of towering lock Kudakwashe “Goofy” Nyakufaringwa, wing Matthew McNab, centre Brendon Mandivenga and fullback Shingi Katsvere.
All run-on debutants are full of raw talent, particularly the backline players, and they will provide the Sables with an attacking flair historically known to be the hallmark of Zimbabwean rugby.
But it is the size and strength that is a worrying factor for Zimbabwe, and what a relief it would be if the Sables can get past the North Africans without much bother tomorrow, especially in the tight exchanges.
Pumas lock Jannie Stander, who was largely expected to provide the solidity in the second row, doesn’t even make the substitute bench, as with the case with his older brother Johan Stander.
De Villiers, surely, has seen something special in this group of players during his short stay here, and with an assistant coach like Brendan Dawson, the local great who knows the ins-and-outs of the game — Zimbabwean rugby could witness tomorrow the birth of a team to take them to their first World Cup in 29 years.
Zimbabwe will be hoping to get their campaign off to a winning start against the Moroccans which would enhance their chances of automatically qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
After Saturday’s game, Zimbabwe head for Kenya ahead of a clash with the East Africans on June 30 before another away clash against Tunisia on July 7.
The Sables will take on Namibia at Hartsfield Rugby Stadium in Bulawayo on August 18 in the penultimate Rugby World Cup qualifier before taking on Uganda in their final match on August 18.
Sables starting XV: 1. Denford Mutamangira, 2. David Makanda, 3. Farai Mudariki, 4. Kudakwashe Nyakufaringwa, 5. Fortune Chipendu, 6. Takudzwa Mandiwanza, 7. Connor Pritchard, 8. Tapfuma Parirenyatwa, 9. Hilton Mudariki, 10. Lenience Tambwera, 11. Matthew McNab, 12.Brendon Mandivenga, 13. Kudzai Mashawi, 14. Takudzwa Kumadiro, 15. Shingi Katsvere
Replacement: 16. Mathew Mandioma, 17. Gabriel Sipapate, 18. Lawrence Cleminson, 19. Brian Nyaude, 20. Njabulo Ndlovu, 21. Peter du Toit, 22. Ngoni Chibuwe, 23. Dylan Baptista.