ZIMBABWE has been admitted into the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, joining continental rivals Namibia as the second national team in South Africa’s second-tier domestic competition.
The Sables become the 16th side in the two-year old competition, which consists of all 14 South African provincial unions and the Namibians.
With Africa’s top rugby nation (outside South Africa), Namibia, having found the going tough against the second group of South Africa’s best players, Zimbabwe, too, should expect a baptism of fire when they plunge into battle in their debut SuperSport Challenge season this year.
Breaking the news yesterday, Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) vice-president Losson Mtongwiza said the Sables will be based in South Africa for the duration of this year’s tournament, to run between end of April and mid-July.
In future, Zimbabwe will bid to host all their home games in the country.
Out of the six games to be played by the Sables in 2019, one home fixture could possibly be secured, most likely against Namibia.
Western Province won the inaugural SuperSport Rugby Challenge edition in 2017 while the Pumas were champions last year.
The 16 teams in the competition this year will be divided into three regional pools.
The top two teams from each pool, along with the two third-placed teams with the best record, will progress to the play-offs, which will consist of quarter finals, a semi-final and a final.
All matches are broadcast live on SuperSport, the tournament sponsor and title holder.
“It’s a very exciting development for ZimRugby,” said Mtongwiza.
“It is a very good level of rugby and we expect to be tested to the limit. But we will put together a good squad able to challenge any team in the competition.”
To come up with the squad — also to feature foreign-based players — the ZRU will unveil a six-club national league, dubbed the Super Six, to run from March and finishing a week before the SuperSport Rugby Challenge kicks off.
Harare Sports Club, Old Georgians, Old Miltonians and Matabeleland Warriors have already booked spots in the Super Six. The two remaining slots will be filled by the top two sides from a play-offs competition already underway. Old Hararians, Mutare Sports Club, Gweru Sports Club and Chitungwiza outfit Southern City are contesting the play-offs.
Zimbabwean domestic rugby will then continue at provincial level after completion of the Super Six.
Meanwhile, Sables coach Peter de Villiers, who is currently back home in South Africa, will return to Zimbabwe on February 12 to discuss his future with the ZRU following reports late last year that he might leave his post due to family reasons, with a year still left on his contract.
Entry into the SuperSport Rugby Challenge will however likely sway the former Springbok coach, who has created a strong bond with the Zimbabwe players despite stern media and public criticism over his failure to guide the Sables to this year’s World Cup finals.
The last time the country played first-class rugby in South Africa was before independence when a plucky Rhodesian side punched above its weight in the “B” division of the Currie Cup.