Defining moment for Sables
Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
THE Zimbabwe national 15s rugby team — the Sables — face a defining moment when they tackle continental heavyweights Namibia in the Rugby Africa Cup semi-final at the Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence in France tonight.
The match kicks off at 9pm local time.
And it’s not only continental glory at stake as the same tournament is doubling up as the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
Only the winners in the July 10 final get an automatic ticket to the global show-piece with the runners-up set to participate in inter-continental play-offs to try and qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup finals.
Such is the weight of tonight’s match against the Welwitchias and the Sables are braced up for the tie.
Coach Brendan Dawson has expressed optimism ahead of the crucial battle which Zimbabwe are going in as the underdogs given the history between these two sides.
But Dawson, whose last meeting against Namibia was a 10-41 loss in the South Africa’s Stellenbosch Challenge in November last year, said history will not be a factor in tonight’s fixture.
“Look, the whole week we have had a very good session, we have built up nicely for this game, we have prepared well. We have a full squad that we are looking at (of course, Aiden Burnnett has been sanctioned for one game) but otherwise we have got a full squad going into the Namibian game. So look I mean, we are very excited. This is what we have been building this whole campaign for up to this date and to this game coming up,” said Dawson.
“The boys are really excited, they are really pumped up and ready to go. Look, it’s a massive game for us and obviously we will be looking at going to the finals and it’s been a long time coming. Namibia have always been strong, the back-pedal of African rugby alongside South Africa so we are looking forward to the challenge and making sure that we go 110 percent and the guys are really ready for it.
“We are really excited for the time and we are ready to go into the park and play this game and hopefully get into the final, we are really pumped up.”
His skipper Hilton Mudariki said his teammates cannot wait to troop onto the park and play their hearts out tonight.
“The mood is very good in camp; the boys are very excited for the challenge that lies ahead (against Namibia). We can’t wait to get onto the pitch tomorrow (tonight).
“Yes, Namibia have always been a tough opponent (for us) over the years but I think for us what is important I think, it’s being accurate in what we are trying to do, that’s one way we can beat Namibia, if we are accurate and execute everything that we want to do in terms of our game plan, we should have a very good chance of winning that game,” said Mudariki.
The 30-year-old said the team has been working on their weaknesses while consolidating their strengths.
Zimbabwe beat Cote d’Ivoire 38-11 in the quarter-finals last Friday night to set up this clash against Namibia.
“Having looked at the game against Cote d’Ivoire, we obviously have to patch up some areas that we want to improve on. The breakdown is one of the areas we need to improve on quite a lot if we are playing high-tempo, we need to be so fast and our breakdown has to be very accurate so that’s being worked on for this upcoming game,” Mudariki said.
He also said Zimbabwe ought to qualify for the global show-piece, having last achieved the feat in 1991, a year before he was born.
“Playing in a World Cup is everything for a rugby player, I mean that’s what we dream about. We are not putting too much pressure on us, we are just going into this game then we go to any other game, we are just making sure that our preparation is good.
“We are making sure that we are ticking all the boxes that we need to tick off. We are just focusing.
“Our focus for the whole week has been focusing on treating this game as any other game. We are not putting too much pressure on ourselves but just go there, play the rugby that we know that we can play, just making sure that we are accurate when opportunities do come up making sure that we take them.
“It has been absolutely humbling receiving messages of support from the nation. Good luck messages have been coming our way and the whole squad really appreciates the support that we are getting, hopefully we will work hard and continue to make our nation proud so we just want to thank Zimbabwe for everything for the support that they have been sending through to us and we hope to make them proud.”
The Sables will need to be at their best to beat a team they last overcame in 2001. Zimbabwe have triumphed just three times in 33 meetings they have faced Namibia.
The other semi-final tie pits Kenya and Algeria at 6pm.