Paul Munyuki Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S 15-23 loss at the hands of hosts Russia in a rugby World Cup qualifier play-off on Saturday saw the extension of the Sables unsuccessful era as they can only hope to be part of the 2019 world tournament.
Losing to Russia only means they now have the 2019 tournament to look forward to but the Zimbabwe Rugby Union must have drawn a lot of lessons from the Sables latest defeat and would need to put them into practice if they are to make it for the 2019 global showcase.
This was indeed the closest Zimbabwe came to qualifying for the World Cup in over a decade, but their best chance was blown away in Madagascar last month where they needed to win the tournament for an automatic slot but poor decision making in the dying stages against Kenya in the final game killed it all.
Zimbabwe last played at the World Cup in 1991 and since then, they have tried to regain their place among the world’s best rugby-playing nations but it has all been in vain, the latest being last weekend’s loss.
This means Zimbabwe have not been to the last five World Cup tournaments and next year’s edition in England will make it their sixth.
It would have been an historical moment for Zimbabwe had they managed to get the better of Russia in many aspects one of them being that Zimbabwe would have hosted a reputable rugby playing-nation in a long time in the form of Uruguay.
But it was always going to be difficult for the Sables to come out as victors in the rugby-mad Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk given that the hosts were in front of their home crowd, they have huge frames compared to Zimbabwe and they were technically superior.
No doubt the Sables led by captain Daniel Hondo gave their all as it was their dream to keep their World Cup hopes alive but Russia showed a lot more passion, confidence and maybe the Sables forgot to wake up and work to make their dream come true.
They feel if they had more time to prepare, they would have made less mistakes in Saturday’s game, they would have understood and executed the game much better and above all they feel they could have beaten Russia.
Zimbabwe had a lot of faith going into this game and not only was their belief visible in the players but in the technical department, the administration and even the supporters back home.
But faith alone was always not going to be enough as Russia capitalised on Zimbabwe’s technical frailties.
From the first minutes of the match, the Russian team captured the gaming initiative and already the first two attacks of our team ended productive activities and at one stage Russia dominated such that by the 24th minute they were 13-0 ahead through two unconverted tries and a penalty.
Zimbabwe would, however, not go down without putting up a fight and it was their first try from eighth-man Lambert Groenewald right below the posts that reduced the arrears for Zimbabwe, leaving them within a reachable target as they went into the break trailing 7-13.
Showing their intention to win the game, Zimbabwe managed to subdue the Russian dominance and despite the fact that they were not able to penetrate the Bears defence, a penalty by fly-half Guy Cronje brought them to just within three points of levelling the scores.
But the Russians added another 10 points before Zimbabwe showed impressive moments of brilliance towards the end through winger Tafadzwa Chitokwindo touch-down but it was too little too late for the Sables because the hosts had done just enough to progress to the final round where they will take on Uruguay on a home and away basis.
Due to lack of sound financial resources, the Sables’ preparations had a huge bearing on this game as they were not able to camp in Zimbabwe prior to their departure for Russia where they effectively had four days of training. Top players were not available as some were injured while others opted out but it was surprising to see hooker Keith Murray start ahead of the dynamic Simba Mandioma while Stephan Hunduza was relegated to the bench.
However, the Sables will have to fight another day.