By Enock Muchinjo
AFTER leading Zimbabwe to a 39-10 win over Zambia on his debut as Sables captain, flyhalf Brandon Mandivenga says the team will only get stronger for the much tougher Tests against Kenya and Uganda in the Victoria Cup.
Although Brendan Dawson’s young side did not hit top gear against the Zambians at Harare Sports Club last Saturday, the Sables wrapped up the win quite comfortably with impressive centre Daniel Capsopoulos grabbing a brace of tries as so did replacement midfielder Takudzwa Chieza — who was making his international debut.
“It was good to start off the campaign with a win under our belt,” 24-year-old Mandivenga said.
“We now know where we are as a team and know where our strengths are and what we need to work on.”
It was an inexperienced side fielded by Dawson, and despite exhibiting patchy brilliance in the match, the Sables lacked structure and a clear game plan — which made decision-making look hurried and hassled.
Mandivenga owned up to some of those flaws.
“We didn’t stick to our game plan during phase play,” he said.
“We didn’t utilise all the opportunities that we got in their 22m. Although we scored a few, we could have scored a lot more if we were more clinical. We definitely need to be more clinical when we have opportunities to score, play to our strengths and keeping our patterns. (However), we as players know where we went wrong and what we can improve on. We will have a look at the match as a team to see where we can improve.”
One aspect of the game where Zimbabwe impressed, though, was at the set-pieces.
That, along with a backline oozing pace and skill, thoroughly impressed the new skipper.
“Our strengths were definitely our scrums and line-outs, where we were dominant,” he said. “The backline was also looking dangerous. Our defence was also very good and it is something we can use as a weapon in upcoming games.”
The former Peterhouse College maestro, nephew of business executive Darlington Mandivenga and not son as erroneously reported last week, spoke of his delight at captaining one of the country’s foremost national teams and beginning on a winning note.
“It was definitely an honour and privilege to captain the team for the first time and it is one of the greatest feelings to lead the side out in front of our home crowd as well as getting the win,” Mandivenga said.
“We look forward to playing in front of our home crowd more often.”
Zimbabwe are rebuilding a side to challenge for a place at the 2023 World Cup, having missed out on this year’s event under the stewardship of former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers.
“The future is very bright for this team and Zimrugby,” Mandivenga said, who made his Zimbabwe debut under de Villiers in the qualifiers last year.
“Our goal is to qualify for the 2023 World Cup and if we continue to grow and gel as a team, that dream will become a reality.”
The Sables travel to Kampala for their second Victoria Cup tie against Uganda next weekend.
Uganda, despite losing to Zimbabwe at home 11 months ago to hand the Sables their only World Cup qualifiers win, are expected to come out all guns blazing to avenge last year’s result.
Mandivenga, though, believes the strong team culture within the Sables camp puts them in good stead. “The atmosphere in camp has been great,” said Mandivenga. “Day by day guys have been getting to each other more and more. It has definitely had a positive impact on the group.”
Zimbabwe’s eye-catching performances at the netball World Cup in England, according to Mandivenga, are also a source of inspiration for the rugby team.
“We have been following the Gems very closely and we are very happy and proud to see another Zimbabwean team doing so well,” he said.
“It is definitely inspiring for us and many other athletes around Zimbabwe.”