The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE start their title defence at this year’s Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens with a battle against Nigeria at Bosman Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday.
This year’s tournament is crucial since it is also serving as a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Winners of the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens will automatically qualify for the Olympics while the three runners up also stand a chance of making it to Japan via the repachage where they will face countries from other continental qualifiers.
Gilbert Nyamutsamba’s men shifted base from Stellenbosch where they have been camping since the end of October to Johannesburg where the real action is taking place.
The Stephan Hunduza captained Cheetahs face off with the West Africans in what is sure to be a bruising battle against the physically imposing Nigerians.
If Zimbabwe overcome Nigeria, they will qualify for the championship, which is for teams playing for places one to eight. The championship teams will be divided into two pools, with four in each pool according to their first round ranking.
Zimbabwe boast of experience and talent in their quest to automatically qualify for the Olympics.
Njabulo Ndlovu is certainly the most experienced player in the squad together with the likes of speedster Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Riaan O’Neill, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Hilton Mudariki, Biselele Tshamala, Ngoni Chibuwe, Kudakwashe Chiwanza and skipper Stephan Hunduza having been around for a long time.
Connor Pritchard, Shingirai Katsvere and Takudzwa Kumadiro are talented players who have performed exceptionally well for the Cheetahs over the past few years.
Nyamutsamba has decided to keep the same squad of 14 that was in camp so as to have cover in the event of injury to any of the chosen 12.
At the last Olympic qualifier also held in Johannesburg in 2015, Zimbabwe were seconds away from booking a place in Rio when they led Kenya 17-14 before the Kenyans stole it right at the end with a converted try to win it 21-17.
Zimbabwe Cheetahs for Rugby Men’s Sevens: Biselele Tshamala, Connor Pritchard, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Kudakwashe Chiwanza, Ngoni Chibuwe, Shingirai Katsvere, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Njabulo Ndlovu, Hilton Mudariki, Takudzwa Kumadiro, Stephan Hunduza(captain), Riaan O’Neill, Martin Mangongo, Tarisai Mugariri
Coach: Gilbert Nyamutsamba
Physiotherapist: Margie Gibson