Paul Munyuki and Shingi Mugabe
HARARE is set to explode this afternoon when the historical showdown between Super Rugby giants Vodacom Blue Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs gets underway at the National Sports Stadium.
With the local fans starved of quality sports entertainment, the clash between the two South African rugby giants has drawn a lot of interest as this is the first time that top global rugby franchises are playing in Zimbabwe — a feat made possible by Kyros Sports Management.
Though some big names will be missing in action in the first pre-season game for both sides, the quality of players that have been named in both sides are just good enough to justify the minimum gate charge of $10 entry fee per person.
The Bulls will not field the likes of Adriaan Strauss and World Cup star Handre Pollard who is recovering from a shoulder injury, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel and flanker Lappies Labuschagne who injured his ankle during training in Harare on Wednesday.
The Cheetahs will alo field a number of junior players wiith flanker Tienie Burger, loose-head Danie Mienie, fly-half Niel Marais and winger Clayton Blommetjies the most recognisable names in a side that include a number of players who formed part of the Varsity Cup competition last year.
Francois Venter, fly-half Fred Zeilinga, hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld, prop Maks van Dyk and winger Raymond Rhule are all on the bench.
However, action will not only be limited to the Bulls/Cheetahs game as there are a number of curtain raisers lined up for the day, the game between arch-rivals Churchill Bulldogs and the Price Edward Tigers highlighting the schools games.
Being arguably Zimbabwe’s biggest schoolboy rivalry, the ‘bad blood’ between the two sides has been worsened by the fact that the Bulldogs camp snatched most of the Tigers players early this week in preparation for the big day.
The festival gets underway at 10am when Mabvuku take on Mbare Boys.
And in the spirit of promoting female participation in local rugby, Harare’s Girls High School and Vainona will take to the field at 11am before St John’s College host Masvingo’s Kyle College at 12pm.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais says he has faith in the players that were part of the Bulls age-grade system last year as he hoped to fuse them into the senior team.
“The likes of Adriaan (Strauss), Handre (Pollard) and a number of others will not be a part of the squad playing tomorrow but those that we have picked for the starting places have shown a lot of commitment, dedication and a belief in what we are trying to build.
“Personally I believe that any other member of our squad should be able to start at any time and this we will be putting to test over the next two weekends starting with tomorrow’s game.
“Most of these players have been a part of our system for a while and were with our junior sides so they are really familiar with what we aim to build, our objectives and I guess that would aid in us finding rhythm and structure early on in the match.
“We have been in Zimbabwe for a week, it has been a very valuable pre-season camp and it has worked well for us,” said Marais.
There also is experience in the Bulls side as they have the likes of prop Werner Kruger who has played in over 100 Super Rugby matches, hooker Callie Visagie has over 50 and scrummy Piet van Zyl.
The Cheetahs are also ready for the battle.
“It’s going to be tough match because the Bulls are no easy side we just have to give it our all and hope we win the game because we would want to test our forces to see what we need to improve and change for the coming season,” said Venter.
Fullback Clayton Blommetjies, who will be starting today, is ready for the showdown.
“I can’t wait to play tomorrow because I want to see how we perform against the Bulls since it’s a derby match.
“We have a young side just like the Bulls so we have to work just as hard, we don’t need to underrate them, they still have more senior players that can guide them to a win so it’s going to be a tough match and we just hope for the best,” he said.
Bulls XV: Divan Rossouw, Kefentse Mahlo, Dries Swanepoel, Dan Kriel, Jade Stighling, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl,
8-1: Hanro Liebenberg, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Freddy Ngoza, Marvin Orie, Jason Jenkins, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman, Nqoba Mxoli, Irne Herbst, Riekert Hattingh, Ivan van Zyl, Francois Brummer, JT Jackson, Jamba Ulengo.
Cheetahs XV: Danie Mienie, Jacques du Toit, Luan de Bruin, Armandt Koster, Reniel Hugo (c), Paul Schoeman, Tienie Burger, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Niel Marais, Clayton Blommetjies, Michael van der Spuy, Reinhardt Erwee, Ruan van Rensburg, Gerrie Labuschagne
Replacements: Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais, Maks van Dyk, Hilton Lobberts, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter, Fred Zeilinga, Francois Venter, Raymond Rhule