Zimbabwe plot comeback at rugby qualifiers
Zimbabwe goes into the upcoming Rugby Africa Cup seeking a spot at next year’s World Cup with their best days more than 30 years behind them.
There have been seven failed campaigns since their last appearance at the tournament in 1991, with Namibia denying the Sables repeatedly, and the emergence of other teams on the continent such as Kenya has made qualifying all the more difficult.
Yet Zimbabwe had a huge confidence-booster with a 30-7 win away to the Netherlands on Saturday in their final warm-up game - their first Test match in Europe in 31 years and their first win ever in Europe.
The result saw the Sables move up seven places in the world rankings to 27th, above the Netherlands and three places behind Namibia, who they could meet in the semi-finals of the Rugby Africa Cup in France.
Needing to reach the final to have a chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals, coach Brendan Dawson feels his team is ready for Friday’s last-eight clash against Ivory Coast in Marseille.
“We’re confident and exceptionally happy going into the Ivory Coast game,” said Dawson. “We won’t get beyond ourselves. We weren’t too clinical in certain areas like the breakdown against the Netherlands, but we go into the qualifiers as prepared as any team can be.”
The main part of the Sables’ preparations was participation in South Africa’s Currie Cup, where they played as a guest team in the second tier of the domestic competition.
Despite finishing ninth of the 10 teams, with three wins, Dawson felt that it was a useful exercise.
“We came into this tournament understanding that we were going to use it as a building process and that we weren’t going to be results-driven,” said Dawson, himself a former international with World Cup experience.
“It was all about getting the right squad for the Africa Cup and winning three games there boosted the morale and made the guys understand the system.”