BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Zimbabwe rugby rising star Blithe “Driller” Mavesere headlines a strong 26-man squad which was announced yesterday ahead of the upcoming Rugby Africa Cup Pool D tournament scheduled for July 9 to 17 in Monastir, Tunisia.
The 23-year-old dynamic open side flank is currently one of Zimbabwe’s brightest prospects after sealing big move to the South African rugby union giants Sharks early this month following his meteoric rise in South Africa’s Varsity Cup competition.
Mavesere’s participation was however in doubt after suffering a hand injury during the first international friendly against Zambia at the Machinery Exchange Rugby Stadium early this month, which kept him on the sidelines for three weeks.
The gifted former Churchill School pupil has now fully recovered to retain his place in the squad which is dominated by players who were part of the 2019 squad which had an impressive run in the Victoria Cup competition as Zimbabwe ended their seven-year trophy drought.
Among the survivors from that squad is the experienced scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki who was recently handed the mandate to lead the side on a substantive basis after serving as stand-in coach during the successful Victoria Cup campaign.
Hilton will however not be able to play alongside his young brother, the France-based prop Farai, who will miss the Tunisia tour due to club commitments.
The other major absentees include the US-based duo of flyhalf Jason Robertson and flank Mason Mungo, with the former unable to make the trip due to commitments at his club while the latter’s eligibility to play for the Sables is yet to be clarified by World Rugby due to his stint with the Scotland rugby sevens side three years ago.
Despite the absentees, the Sables squad remains laden with gifted players plying their trade both at home and in different countries around the world.
After impressing on their debuts against Zambia early this month, the New Zealand-based duo of centre Brandon Mudzekenyedzi and prop Doug Juszczyk will embark on their maiden tour with the Sables after being included in the squad.
Apart from the Kiwi-bred pair, the other new face in the Sables squad is England-based loose forward Sebastian Roche, a Hellenic Academy player.
The Sables are expected to leave the country tonight ahead of a two-week camp in Tunisia as they look to make up for lost time following the cancelation of their friendly matches against Namibia, Portugal and South African provincial sides due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Zimbabwe will open their Africa Cup Pool D campaign against minnows Burkina Faso on July 13 and then clash with Tunisia four days later.
Both matches will be played at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in Monastir.
The Zimbabweans are expected to pass this segment of qualifiers with relative ease ahead of the business-end of the World Cup quest next year.
The Sables, who managed to play two friendly matches against Zambia in Harare early this month, before scheduled friendly matches against Namibia were cancelled because of a rising number of Covid-19 cases in Namibia.
The Sables also had to halt their training sessions following a ban on sporting activity in the country on June 14.
Sables Africa Cup Squad
Forwards: Tyron Fagan, Doug Juszczyk, Simba Mandioma, Bornwell Gwinji, David Makamba, Deanne Makoni, Royal Mwale, Cleopas Kundiona, Sean Beevor, Blithe Mavesere, Biselele Tshamala, Godfrey Muzanargwo, Sebastian Roche, Aiden Burnett, Tonderai Chiwambutsa
Backs: Hilton Mudariki, Dudlee White-Sharpley, Keith Chiwara, Matthew McNab, Riaan O’Neill, Brandon Mudzekenyedzi, Shingirai Katsvere, Shayne Makombe, Takudzwa Chieza, Martin Mangongo, Brendon Mandivenga.