Germany pins Olympic hopes on Zim-SA magic

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FOR Germany’s national Sevens rugby team, the long wait is over — they have finally got their man.

By Enock Muchinjo

The Europeans’ spirited pursuit of a 2020 Olympic Games berth received a timely boost last week with the news that former Zimbabwe international Manasah Sita has completed his qualification period, making him eligible to play competitively for his adopted country. Going to Tokyo for the Olympics next year will be some kind of consolidation for Sita, who came so desperately close with Zimbabwe four years ago to secure a place in Rio de Janeiro.

That heartbreak, losing the African qualifiers’ final to Kenya on the last minute in 2015, was the last piece of action for Sita in the colours of Zimbabwe, with whom the speedster won multiple caps and acquired a reputation as an entertaining winger on the world Sevens circuit.

After failing at the last hurdle with Zimbabwe, Sita went back to Germany, which had already granted him citizenship, having been resident there since 2009.

But there was still the small matter of serving his eligibility period, and now German rugby authorities and fans — who utterly adore the Harare-born tearaway — are hoping that he can produce the magic and propel them to Tokyo during a European qualification competition in Colomiers, France, mid-July.

With the wounds of four years ago still fresh, Sita will be driven by past failure when he fights for the German cause in France. If Germany qualifies, he will hang up his boots in Tokyo. If not, then it will be the end of the road for a player who, given his talents, probably underachieved in this sport.

“Not qualifying for Rio in that manner still hurts to this day,” Sita tells IndependentSport from Germany this week.

“So it’s now or never for me because after this I’m done with rugby. I will be putting all my energy into my (fitness) business and my family.”

Sita is not the only Southern African the Germans are heavily relying on for the ticket to the Japanese capital next year.

South Africa’s Vuyo Zangqa, the former Springbok Sevens wizard, is the Germany national team head coach. That there is a great mutual respect from both men makes this Southern African pair quite the special gift for German rugby. “I have a very respectful relationship with Vuyo,” Sita says.

“We’ve known each other for quite a while now. Back in 2008 when he was playing for the Springboks and I was playing for Zimbabwe, we played against each other. His knowledge of Sevens is mind blowing. It’s a great feeling to play for a team that has trust in you and a coach that believes in you as a player. Hopefully, come the Olympic qualifiers, I will add my experience to the team with good results.”

Sita has not wasted time in making his presence felt in the German team. This past weekend, soon after his eligibility was confirmed, he scored nine tries for Germany at the Nancy Sevens in France, where the team finished third.

Great Britain (if they do not qualify directly through the World Sevens Series route), Ireland and France will be among the front-runners at the Olympic qualifiers and the Germans — who play their rugby a tier below these leading nations — will have their work cut out for them in the Tokyo 2020 bid. But that is precisely the reason the Germans have pulled out all the stops to secure the services of a quality player like Sita and a highly-regarded young coach in the form of Zangqa. And Sita believes the shorter version of the game reduces the gap between sides.

“Well, you know, in Sevens anything can happen. We have a good team and we are working hard towards this goal. So we will see.”

Sita, who also played Test rugby for Zimbabwe’s national Fifteens team, has enjoyed a fairytale rugby career. His is the story of an individual’s hunger for success and desire to be the best.

The 33-year-old did not attend one of Zimbabwe’s top rugby-playing schools. He admirably hauled himself out of an underprivileged upbringing in Harare’s Mbare township, learning how to play rugby at lowly teams in the Zimbabwean capital and then announcing his prodigious talents to the world at Old Hararians, one of the country’s best club sides.

Former Zimbabwe international Jeff Tigere, who has himself established foothold in Germany over years, reckons with players like Sita in the side, Zangqa’s charges have a pretty decent chance of qualifying for the Olympics.

Tigere, head coach of Bundesliga 1 club RG Heidelberg, said: “I got four players from my club in the German national (Sevens) team. It’s an exciting time for the whole team. I think they’ve a good chance (of qualifying).

Now with Manasah joining, he is like a boost with his speed and with his strength. It will depend on the day who wants it more.”

So the much-respected Sevens rugby brains of an exciting young coach from Umtata, as well as the demonic speed and power of a warrior from Mbare will combine to drive Germany’s Olympic dream.

They can certainly expect lots of flair from this team at the qualifiers in July.

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