Mehluli Sibanda in Harare
THE Zimbabwe national sevens rugby team, the Cheetahs, will be counting on home support when they take to the field in the Confederation of African Rugby Africa Cup Sevens tournament at Prince Edward High School in Harare today and tomorrow. Cheetahs captain Jacques Leitao yesterday said playing at home comes with a weight of expectations.
Addressing a press conference at the tournament venue, Leitao believes that playing at home where they will enjoy support from the fans will spur them on.
“There is pressure on us playing at home where we will enjoy all the home support but pressure is good for us, that should go a long way,’’ said Leitao.
Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba, has decided to go for seasoned players with only South Africa-based flyhalf Rian O’Neil, the only player to make his debut in Cheetahs colours while there is an international return for scrumhalf Graham Kaulback who had been sidelined for close to two years after breaking his leg.
Nyamutsamba has the luxury of unleashing experienced props Fortune Chipendu, Njabulo Ndlovu, centre Gardner Nechironga, sevens rugby stalwart, winger Wesley Mbanje as well as Tafadzwa Chitokwindo who can unleash a burst of speed on the wing. Scrumhalf Kilvan Magunje, scrumhalf Stephan Hunduza, prop Boyd Rouse have shown lots of potential since making a breakthrough into the Cheetahs setup a few years ago.
South Africa-based centre, Shayne Makombe, has had a few runs in the Cheetahs jersey in tournaments such as the Middelburg Sevens in South Africa and the Africa Cup Sevens presents him with an opportunity to hold down a place in the team.
Nyamutsamba saw some of the players he would have loved to have a look at pull out of the camp due to injury.
These were the South Africa-based trio of Lenience Tambwera, Biselele Tshamala and Lambert Groenewald who could not make it due to injury while United Kingdom based scrumhalf/play maker Hilton Mudariki could not get an early release from his club which only saw him arrive yesterday when the final squad of 12 players had already been announced.
Chances are high that Tambwera, Groenewald and Mudariki will be available for the South African leg of the World Sevens Series to be played at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth during the second weekend of December.
Zimbabwe have been drawn in pool A where they will face off against Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast and Namibia while pool B comprises South African Academy, Tunisia, Botswana, Zambia, Senegal and Madagascar. First up for Zimbabwe is clash against Nigeria which is going to be followed by fixtures against Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast and Namibia.
Winners of the two pools as well as their runners up progress to the semifinals.
The tournament in Harare is going to be used to determine the teams that progress through to World Rugby World Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong in March next year which itself serves an opportunity to countries without core status member countries to attain full membership that brings with it benefits such as playing in all the nine tournaments which are part of the international circuit and financial support from the world rugby governing body.
At the moment, Zimbabwe only get invited to make up the numbers in competitions within their region like the Port Elizabeth Sevens.
CAR vice-president, Zimbabwe born Dave Gilberts of Botswana and World Rugby regional manager for Africa Jean Luc Barthez are in the country to ensure a smooth running of the tournament.
Zimbabwe Cheetahs squad: Fortune Chipendu, Jacques Leitao (captain), Njabulo Ndlovu, Boyd Rouse, Kilvan Magunje, Graham Kaulback, Shayne Makombe, Gardner Nechironga, Wesley Mbanje, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Rian O’Neil, Stephan Hunduza
Coach: Gilbert Nyamutsamba
Assistant Coach: Daniel Hondo
Team Manager: Steve McDonald