AFTER a year that started with promises of a first World Cup appearance in 30 years, but could now end in relegation to the second-tier of African rugby, Zimbabwe’s captain Denford Mutamangira has leapt to the defence of coach Peter de Villiers, who has come under fire for horribly misjudging African opponents to the detriment of the Sables.
By Enock Muchinjo
Zimbabwe have sank closer and closer to the danger of finishing their 2018 Africa Gold Cup campaign without a win when they clash with Uganda in Kampala tomorrow in both teams’ final match of Africa’s premier international competition.
The Sables have lost to Kenya, Tunisia, Namibia and drawn with Morocco this season in a dismal campaign that has left in tatters the reputation of the former Springboks coach.
Selection has been the biggesr source of criticism against de Villiers. The South African has doggedly kept faith in a core group of young players, mainly locally-based, who found the going extremely tough against African nations that have put money where their mouths are — investing substantially into domestic structures that now produce players superior to Zimbabwe’s.
Particularly mind-boggling, when it comes to selection, is that the team’s band of sponsors had made a commitment to dig deep into bags of resources to fly in all foreign-based professionals as requested by the coaching staff.
It is an issue neither de Villiers nor the Zimbabwe Rugby Union leadership are yet to publicly address.
However, Mutamangira feels that such flak against the coach is unwarranted, saying his selection base was limited to players within his range of sight.
“Well, look at it from a different angle,” said Mutamangira. “If you are a coach coming into a new system, who would you rather work with? The people that you hear about, or those that you can see on the ground? He was being told of players that he had never seen. I think that is where the issue was. For him it was like ‘I would rather work with people I can see physically. And I know where they stand’. We know there are foreign-based players, but there is not footage or anything of them. Fine, there are those that are tried and tested, but there were new (foreign-based) guys who were also coming through. This is the discussion I heard. Look, I am not a coach, but that was the issue. You hear names, but you have never seen them.”
In defending team selection, Mutamangira however gave an important insight into how Zimbabwe have been so poor in the campaign.
The multiple-capped loose-head prop – who hit the 50-Test mark this season – seemed to suggest that the available players not only showed the coach a wrong picture of their ability, but lacked the overall right attributes to execute de Villiers’ game plans, especially in match situations.
“The way we prepared, the way he (de Villiers) wanted us to play, the way we executed in training – you would not think that the guys that were there were not good enough,” said the 33-year-old front rower. “But when it comes to games, that is when you see that ‘he does not have this, he does not have that’. That is when you see that a particular player needs to grow more in a certain area.”
The Harare Sports Club stalwart also reserved some praise for the young squad amidst the gloom, particularly in light of scornful remarks directed at the current Sables crop.
“It is a new generation of players compared to those (previous) guys,” Mutamangira said. “Look at the backgrounds as well. It is completely different. We had a meeting where I said ‘guys, in terms of skills and talent, you have. The difference is character. But character is not the coach’s job, it is something in you. You need to step up. Talent alone will not take us where we want. Let me give you an example from the previous team. A guy like Prayer (Chitenderu). He was not the most talented guy, but he would give you 200 percent. I believe in you, I believe the coach did not make a mistake. It is high time you showed the country what you can do and repay the faith the coach has put in you’. That is what I said.”