The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
THIS year’s Rugby Africa Cup has already seen two upsets with the top countries on the continent losing in matches they were largely expected to win.
On 3 July, Namibia, the second-best African team after South Africa lost 24-13 against Ivory Coast in pool A. Kenya, who are ranked 35 were also beaten 201-9 by Senegal in pool B. Namibia, ranked 25 in the world did manage to thump Madagascar 52-10 in their second match to finish on top of their pool but Kenya, while they hammered Zambia 45-8 last Sunday ended second in their group after Senegal had defeated the Zambians 20-5 in their second group encounter.
Zimbabwe go up against West African nation Burkina Faso at Old Georgians Sports Club this afternoon in the first of two pool D fixtures, with the second match to be played at the same venue on Thursday. The Sables are the 34th best team in the world while the Stallions, winners of the Rugby Africa repachage are 90th. With Tunisia having withdrawn as the host nation for pool D and could not travel to Zimbabwe because of rising Covid-19 cases in the North African country, the Sables and the Stallions are guaranteed of safe passage into the next round of the Rugby Africa Cup, which is the qualification pathway for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the matches in Harare are meant to determine who finishes on top of the pool.
After seeing Namibia and Kenya struggle against West African opponents, Zimbabwe Sables coach Brendan Dawson wants his players to display confidence and not be arrogant when they face Burkina Faso.
“We have to respect Burkina Faso as a rugby playing nation but we want to go out there and make a stand. We have to be prepared, anything can happen, there is a big difference between arrogance and confidence. We have to be confident in our abilities and not be arrogant,’’ Dawson said.
The former Sables skipper said they do not know much about Burkina Faso, with the only footage of the Stallions in action being from their match against Cameroon last month. What was evident from the clash with Cameroon is that Burkina Faso have big forwards, which means the Sables have to be prepared for a bruising battle.
“We just watched them on video when they played Cameroon and that’s it. They are big bunch of guys, we have to make sure we take the game to them. We can match them physically, we also have big boys,’’ said Dawson.
The Sables have been camp for close to two months and are itching to get their Rugby Africa Cup campaign underway. Zimbabwe managed to play two friendly matches against Zambia, both which they comfortably won last month. Planned fine tuning fixtures against Namibia as well as Portugal were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been fortunate, we have been together for seven weeks, whatever we have worked on, now it’s time to put it on display,’’ said Dawson.
Tyran Fagan has been chosen at loose-head prop, with Deanne Makoni down at hooker while Cleopas Kundiona will scrum down at tight-head prop to complete the front row. Sean Beevor and David Makamba will lock down the scrum in the second row, with the back row made up of Biselele Tshamala, the most experienced player in the Sables team with 40 caps at left flanker, Blithe Mavesere at right flanker and Sebastian Roche at number eight.
Skipper Hilton Mudariki starts at scrumhalf to form a halfback pairing with Keith Chiwara. Matthew McNab and Shingirai Katsvere are expected to provide pace on the wings while Marcus Nel starts at inside centre with Brandon Mudzekenyedzi on the outside. Martin Mangongo is the last man in defence at fullback.
Matthew Mandioma, Royal Mwale, Riaan O’Neill and Shayne Makombe are some of the experienced players named on the bench.
Zimbabwe Sables against Senegal: Tyran Fagan, Deanne Makoni, Cleopas Kundiona, Sean Beevor, David Makamba, Biselele Tshamala, Blithe Mavesere, Sebastian Roche, Hilton Mudariki (captain), Keith Chiwara, Matthew McNab, Marcus Nel, Brandon Mudzekenyedzi, Shingirai Katsvere, Martin Mangongo
Replacements: Matthew Mandioma, Doug Juszczyk, Royal Mwale, Godfrey Muzanargwo, Dudlee White-Sharpley, Riaan O’Neill, Shayne Makombe, Aiden Burnett
Coach: Brendan Dawson
Assistant coach: Liam Middleton
Assistant coach: Graham Knoop
Technical analyst: Takunda Chifokoyo
Team manager: Jason Maritz
Physiotherapist: Alice Randall — @Mdawini_29.