Sables project moves a gear up

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Enock Muchinjo

IT SHOULD be Africa’s own version of the Rugby Championship, or the Six Nations, but its erratic scheduling deprives it of such status.

A new-look Victoria Cup — pitting Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and newly-admitted Zambia — kicked off last weekend to fill the void left by the absence of the
Africa Cup, which doesn’t take place in the same year as the game’s greatest showpiece, the World Cup.

Zimbabwe and Zambia’s geographical intimacy with the majestic Victoria Falls as well as that of Kenya and Uganda to the Lake Victoria makes this a truly unique
South versus East contest, so aptly named.

Sentiment aside, the Victoria Cup — which returns to the calendar for the first time since 2011 — takes a whole new meaning this year principally because of
one key factor: rankings. As a World Rugby-sanctioned four-nation championship, it affects world rankings, which are critical because they will determine the
route for Africa’s 2023 World Cup qualification course in a new-look structure introduced by the game’s global governing body.

All sides will thus be taking this year’s competition seriously. Already Kenya, perhaps feeling the heat after their tournament opening defeat to neighbours
Uganda last Saturday, have asked for postponement of their tie with Zimbabwe in Nairobi next weekend.

The request has been duly granted, meaning that the Sables will now open their 2019 Victoria Cup account against newcomers Zambia at home on July 13.

The Zimbabweans, who were originally meant to begin preparations for the trip to Kenya two days ago, will now begin camp on Monday to get ready for the
Zambians.

Fresh from making their debut in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the bulk of Zimbabwe’s squad has been drawn from the one that took part in South Africa’s second domestic competition.

While most of the squad players named this week are already Test-capped, with varying amounts of Sables appearances, quite a few will be having their first
taste of international rugby in the Victoria Cup.

There are about three generations in the squad.

For example men like lock Jan Ferreira, front-rower David Makanda as well as scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki and wing Tafadzwa Chitokwindo can be considered to be
quite experienced at Test level.

Then there are those like lock Kudakwashe Nyakufaringwa, wing Matthew McNab and fullback Shingi Katsvere, all favourites of former Springbok coach Peter de
Villiers in the failed 2019 World Cup bid last year.

Never to be left out is of course brilliant prospect Cleopas Kundiona, the tight-head prop now with Sharks in South Africa, and the exciting half-back Jerry
Jaravaza — both very young players with two caps from last year’s World Cup qualifiers.

Almost certain to make their Test debuts for the Sables in the Victoria Cup are Tyran Fagan, Godwin Mangenge, Aiden Burnett, Godfrey Muzanargwo and Blithe
Mavesere — all forwards who starred in the SuperSport Challenge.

A noticeable omission from Zimbabwe’s squad is the experienced eighthman Njabulo Ndlovu, whose club in South Africa can only release him for two of the Sables’
six Victoria Cup Tests.

With some of Zimbabwe’s squad members returning to Europe at some stage during the course of the tournament, chances are that Ndlovu will be required after all
for the two games his club is willing to be without him.

In addition to retaining the SuperSport Challenge coaching staff of head coach Brendan Dawson and assistant coach Tonderai Chavhanga, the Sables have also
boosted their technical bench.
The much-respected Liam Middleton rejoins the Sables coaching set-up as defence coach while revered former national team captain Daniel Hondo becomes
conditioning coach.

Former Zimbabwe youth international Jason Maritz — who managed the local outfit that competed in the SuperSport Challenge — becomes the new Sables manager.

For Dawson, Middleton and Hondo, it is a reunion of sorts as Zimbabwean rugby looks to the future with the goal of qualifying for the 2023 World Cup.

When the Sables came just bonus point of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, Dawson was the coach with Hondo as his captain. Middleton was the team’s technical
advisor.

A new substantive captain of the Sables, meanwhile, is also expected to be appointed before the Victoria Cup campaign.

24-year-old fly-half Brandon Mandivenga, who was handed the opportunity of leading the SuperSport Challenge side, is in the running to carry over leadership of the team into Test rugby.

But the gifted scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki, aged 27, is viewed by many as the long-term choice for the captaincy of Zimbabwe’s rugby team.

Mudariki, of tier two English rugby club Jersey Reds, also captains the Zimbabwe Sevens team.

SQUAD

Forwards: Matthew Mandioma, Tyran Fagan*, Royal Mwale, Henri Boshoff*, Keith Murray, Neil Mawere*, David Makanda, Cleopas Kundiona, Kudakwashe Chipunza*,
Godwin Mangenje*, Jan Ferreira, Kudakwashe Nyakufaringwa, George Saungweme, David Kapuya, Biselele Tshamala, Blithe Mavesere*, Brian Nyaude, Aiden Burnett*, Godfrey Muzanargwo*.

Backs: Hilton Mudariki, Ernest Mudzengerere, Kuziwakwashe Kazembe, Brandon Mandivenga, Jerry Jaravaza, Martin Mangongo*, Ngoni Chibuwe, Daniel Capsopoulos,
Takudzwa Chieza, Shayne Makombe, Riaan O’Neill, Kudzai Mashawi, Takudzwa Kumadiro, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Matthew McNab, Shingi Katsvere, Rufaro Chikwaira*
Wesley Chiromo*, Kuda Chiwanza.

* Players without previous Test caps.

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