Time to come together again

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AIR around the packed conference room inside the Meikles Hotel on February 7 was filled with hope and excitement for the future.
At the top-table in the middle was a lively Peter de Villiers, who was being unveiled as Zimbabwe’s new national rugby team coach.
His natural charm, sense of humour and quick wit were lightening up the whole place.
On either side of de Villiers sat Brendan Dawson and Aaron Jani, two former Zimbabwe teammates: one, now president of the country’s national rugby association and, the other, accepting his appointment as de Villiers’ assistant coach.
It was a top-table that inspired confidence with de Villiers, of course, needing no introduction, then Dawson and Jani—distinguished ex-international players and legends of the great Old Miltonians club at home in Bulawayo.
All three men, smartly-clad in their green Zimrugby blazers, beamed widely into the flashing cameras, images of which graced the pages of newspapers across the globe the following day.
They spoke heart-warmingly of a new dawn for rugby in Zimbabwe — of which we were all hugely excited.
No sooner had the ceremony ended than the prompt tweets of the sports press corps present that afternoon — publicising de Villiers’ appointment — found themselves on the online editions of some of the world’s leading news outlets.
A sense of optimism was in the air, and Zimbabwean rugby was basking in rare limelight.
Things indeed were looking up.
Today in this paper, we publish a story that perhaps best captures the dramatic turn of events since that day in February.
All three men at the top-table spoke in unison eight months ago — of better days ahead, of their desire to change Zimrugby forever, of the big dream to go to the World Cup in 2019.
As incorrigible a pessimist as ever lived probably would have been the only person to imagine the unpleasant situation prevailing eight months later.
Jani leads an executive body of the ZRU whose move to sack de Villiers almost sailed through last week.
De Villiers, on his part, has not had the most flattering remarks of the ZRU’s management style.
Dawson fell foul of de Villiers during the season, bringing to an end a partnership that appeared a God-send for Zimrugby.
Judging by the tone of the coach’s report, de Villiers is clearly upset with Dawson and is in no mood to pull any punches.
It is thoroughly understandable to lose your cool to persistent insubordination — even for amiable men like de Villiers — and those who know Dawson well will testify of the man’s knack to rub people up the wrong way when things are not going well.
Any coach in de Villiers’ position, with a CV and profile like his, will not take being undermined lightly.
If indeed that was the case with Dawson, then appropriate action needed to be taken and the ZRU was right to remove him.
But what must not be lost to de Villiers is the background behind it all and, as much as he felt infuriated and frustrated to those extreme levels, he should also understand the frustrations of others.
At the beginning of the year, Dawson was one of the front-runners for the Sables coaching post before de Villiers came into the picture.
In retrospect, Dawson’s record — when he was previously Zimbabwe’s head coach — is one of the best in traceable history.
Four years ago in the qualification competition in Madagascar, he was a bonus-point away from guiding Zimbabwe to the 2015 World Cup.
However, when de Villiers was recruited, Dawson stepped back and accepted an assistant coach’s role, saying he was delighted and excited to work under one of the best coaches in the world for the greater good of the Sables.
Whatever happened at the height of frustration — wrong choices were made by de Villiers we must not forget — it is hard to imagine that a guy like Dawson, who has dedicated his entire life to Zimrugby, can deliberately do anything to its detriment.
Same with Jani and the rest of his executive. These are men who know the game well, and a great deal will be learnt from mistakes made this past season.
Now that de Villiers is staying put after all, it is time to close ranks again, just as it was on February 7 in the Meikles.

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