Hope still alive of Netherlands tour… as rugby activities slowly resume

DANIEL NHAKANISO

ZIMBABWE Rugby Union (ZRU) president Aaron Jani (pictured) believes the Sables’ proposed tour of Netherlands would be a good opportunity for the senior national team to get “quality and regular” competition ahead of another tough qualification period for the 2023 World Cup.

And after being inactive since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sables are hoping to salvage their season by touring Netherlands for two Tests towards the end of November.

Rugby activities have been slowly resuming in different parts of the world, including neighbouring South Africa, where teams started training a fortnight ago after a long break following the Covid-19 virus outbreak, early in the year, which affected competitions.

ZRU will need to convince the government to allow them to tour in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. They have received support and encouragement from the Dutch Rugby Union and world governing body World Rugby.

“World Rugby has been very supportive while Dutch Rugby Union are also very eager to host the Sables, so we are still quite hopeful that the tour will go ahead, but there are still some issues that still have to be sorted out,” the ZRU president told IndependentSport in an interview yesterday.

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions still in place around the world, issues like flights to the Netherlands and clearance from Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), which are also key components (to the success of the tour) will have to be sorted out, but we remain optimistic that the tour will go ahead as scheduled.”

Jani, a former Zimbabwe international, has been making concerted efforts to ensure the Sables adequately prepare for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, which will be held in 2022.

Zimbabwe are set to make their second appearance in South Africa’s SuperSport Rugby Challenge before playing Tests against Ghana and Tunisia in the Rugby Africa Cup.

With both tournaments cancelled by the South African Rugby Union (Saru) and Rugby Africa due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ZRU leadership and the Sables’ team management have been exploring different avenues to create playing opportunities for the Sables.

In addition to the proposed tour of the Netherlands, ZRU has also held discussions with Germany and Belgium as the country pushes for a first appearance at the global event since 1991.

Jani believes the end of year tour to the Netherlands would be a good beginning for the team.

“It would be a very good opportunity for the Sables if the tour of Netherlands goes ahead and we will pull all efforts to ensure it goes ahead. Quality and regular competition is the only way to go. We need and we must play those teams that are ranked slightly higher than us,” Jani said.

“Qualifying for the World Cup will change the complexion of Zimbabwe rugby and how it’s perceived on the world stage. So l hope the Covid-19 challenges will allow the tour to go ahead.”

Netherlands, who are ranked 25th in the World Rugby rankings, 10 places above Zimbabwe, are one win away from reaching the Rugby Europe Championship, the top tier outside of the Six Nations Championship, after recently being declared winners of the Rugby Europe Trophy.

Zimbabwe will be eager to test their preparedness against the European side in a groundbreaking tour which should open up more opportunities for them to compete against higher ranked opposition and on a regular basis.

Last year, Zimbabwe made their debut in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, an event credited with laying a solid foundation for the team’s impressive Victoria Cup triumph ahead of Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.