BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
THE Sables have qualified for the final phase of the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers following the withdrawal of Tunisia from Rugby Africa Cup Pool D games, which will now be held in Zimbabwe from July 16-22.
Tunisia had initially been scheduled to host the Sables and Burkina Faso tie this week in Monastir with the top two placed nations progressing to next year’s knockout stages of the continental tournament which will serve as the final qualifier for the 2023 World Cup in France.
The North Africans however pulled out of hosting the matches at the last minute due to a partial lockdown imposed by their government following a spike in coronavirus cases, prompting the cancellation of the three-team tournament. Tunisia’s rugby side was also barred from travelling to Zimbabwe, who will now host the tournament which means that the Sables and Burkina Faso will only be playing for top position in the group when they meet in two Tests scheduled for July 16 and 22.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union confirmed in a statement on Wednesday evening that they will now host the Rugby Africa Cup Pool D tournament, having initially been placed on standby.
“Zimbabwe will now host the (Rugby Africa Cup) Pool D games after Tunisia failed to host the tournament after a surge in Covid-19 cases which saw them move from an orange to a red zone. Zimbabwe was on standby to host the games as the second highest ranked team in the group,” ZRU said in a statement.
“The tournament was dealt a further blow when Tunisia was denied permission to travel to Zimbabwe. This means the pool D games will now be a two team tournament to establish the ranking for the next stage of the competition in 2022. The tournament will now take place between the 16th and 22nd of July with two games being played under very strict Covid guidelines with no spectators,” added the local rugby mother body.
ZRU, however, did not specify if they have been granted permission by the government to host the Rugby Africa Cup matches due to a current ban on sporting activity in the country with the exception of the national cricket side which is hosting Bangladesh and the Warriors who are participating in the Cosafa Cup.
The decision by Rugby Africa to bring the tournament to Zimbabwe will however be a major boost to the Sables players, who have been in camp since May 16 in preparation for the competition, which marks the start of the 2023 World Cup qualifying marathon. The Sables last played a competitive match in September 2019 when they lifted the Victoria Cup tournament, which also featured East African sides Kenya and Uganda, as well as their opponents today and neighbours Zambia.
Last month they played two international friendlies on home soil against neighbours Zambia in preparation for the Africa Cup, but the two matches against Burkina Faso will be their first Test matches in two years.