Hall of Famer feels ‘sad’ for Zim

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Western Province and Pumas won the first two editions of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.

Enock Muchinjo

WORLD Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Kennedy Tsimba says he is deeply saddened by Zimbabwe’s long absence from the sport’s World Cup, whose 2019 edition is currently underway in Japan.

The 45-year-old icon of South African first-class rugby — who is working as a pundit for television news broadcaster eNCA during the World Cup — appeared in six international matches for Zimbabwe and was the country’s first black captain 21 years ago.

“It is very sad not being in the World Cup for another edition after those early appearances by our team in the first two tournaments in 1987 and 1991,” Tsimba told IndependentSport this week.

“I know deep down that we (Zimbabwe) have got bucket loads of talent both locally and globally. We should be in world rugby conversations.”

The Free State Cheetahs legend reckons a side of Zimbabwe’s mold, which can be a real menace with ball in hand, would have brought a refreshing running style of rugby to the World Cup.

“They would have been suitable to a mix-15-men playing style, where you play (according to) what you see in front of you,” he said. “So you run where there are overlaps and kick where there is space at the back.”

With international power South Africa featuring automatically in all their World Cups since 1995 when they hosted it and then as a top-ranked nation thereafter, the rest of Africa has had to battle it out for a single direct qualification slot, which has been dominated by Namibia since 1999.

Tsimba — a super-gifted flyhalf once considered to be the planet’s best in that position — was only 24 in 1998 when he led Zimbabwe for the first time in the African qualification competition for the 1999 World Cup, becoming the first player black skipper of the Sables.

Bursting at the seam with fine generation of Zimbabwean players — Tsimba, Victor Olonga, Karl Mudzamba, Ryan Bekker, Elimon “Bedford” Chimbima, Brian Beattie, TJ Madamombe, John Ewing, Mordecai “Bhuru” Mwerenga, Brendan Dawson, Leon Greeff, Rean van der Merwe, Brighton Chivandire amongst others — the under-prepared Sables toiled hard in the heat of Moroccan capital city Rabit but it was Namibia who booked the ticket to the first of their six consecutive World Cups.

“We had a number of players playing around the world so we generally had a good unit,” Tsimba, probably the best Zimbabwe player ever to play in the World Cup, said. “But we didn’t get much time to become a team. Talent alone isn’t enough. We didn’t have much time to prepare for that tournament. I think we met two days before departure.”

Tsimba has spent much of his professional life in South Africa, but still follows developments at home in Zimbabwe closely.

Zimbabwe, he says, should prepare well ahead of time if they seriously harbour ambitions at the next World Cup in France in 2023.

“It takes long-term planning, not planning the year of the qualifiers,” he said. “Japan didn’t use all their first-team players in Super Rugby so that they could plan for Ireland (the Japanese stunned Ireland 19-12 in Pool A last week). Namibia did participate in Sevens focussed on 15s four years ago. So a lot of strategy is required, involving experts of modern rugby trends.”

Japan’s defeat of the Irish, on the back of their famous win over the Springboks four years ago is, according to Tsimba, a wonderful advertisement for this year’s World Cup. “The standards have been very high,” he said.

“The tier two nations have closed the gap. There haven’t been any 100-point scores.”

And what of Tsimba’s favourite to lift the World Cup come November 2?

While the Makoni-born ex-star was full of praise for his Free State teammate of six years, current Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, he emphasised how the tournament was well-balanced in terms of teams’ strengths.

“Their (South Africa) chances are pretty good,” Tsimba said. “When you have a very tactically-minded coach like Rassie, you will always have a good chance. They are always up physically. It’s just their tactics that they have to execute correctly under pressure. But there are a lot of very good tactical teams at this World Cup.”

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