Mehluli Sibanda, in Johannesburg, South Africa
LACK of game time cost Zimbabwe big time at the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens that ended at Bosman Stadium on Saturday where the Cheetahs finished third, falling short in their quest to secure direct qualification for next year’s Olympic Games.
Zimbabwe also failed to defend their Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens title, which they won last year in Tunisia with a win over Kenya in the final.
It was instead the Kenyans who were crowned African champions and secured automatic qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Runners-up Uganda and Zimbabwe still have a chance of making it to Japan, but through a tougher route in the repechage to be staged in June next year where they will meet runners-up from the other continental qualifiers.
Just one defeat throughout the tournament, a 24-12 loss to Uganda on the final day, changed everything for the Cheetahs, who looked destined to make the final.
Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba strongly believes they failed to achieve direct qualification for the Olympics, not because of lack of ability on the part of his players, but it came down to teams that had the best preparations in the run-up to the tournament.
He is convinced that with enough game time, they can match Kenya and other World Rugby Sevens Series teams.
“The only difference with the teams that we played is that they play more tournaments than us. I see us being able to match, not only Kenya, but the World Series teams if we can get to play in more tournaments,” Nyamutsamba said.
He is yearning for continuity by giving his players more tournaments to prepare for the Olympic qualifier and keeping the team together.
“The biggest difference with the teams that go to the final is that they played more games, so it’s not really about what has gone wrong in the two days, it’s how we prepared for the tournament, we unfortunately did not get enough game time; the team only met a week before and that’s the only time we actually started preparing.
“Going forward, the most important thing would be continuity. If we can keep the team together and get it into more tournaments, I actually see a whole lot of potential and I am sure the team can only get better.”
Cheetahs captain Stephan Hunduza concurred with his coach’s sentiments, stating they need to play in more tournaments when they prepare to have another shot at Olympic qualification next year.
“It had been a long time without playing together as a team with the squad we had, but we managed to pull through. I am sure from here we need to stay together; we need to play some two tournaments again. I am sure we will manage to do better than what we did today,” Hunduza said.
The Cheetahs had a sluggish start to the tournament, with a 24-21 triumph over Nigeria in the first round on Friday. Nigeria were Zimbabwe’s opponents again in the group stages, with the Cheetahs turning on the heat to win 47-0.
Zimbabwe beat Zambia 19-7 to end the first day with three wins. Madagascar, Zimbabwe’s last group stage opponents, proved to be tricky, with the Cheetahs having to work hard for their 15-12 victory.
Uganda proved to be just too good for Zimbabwe and denied the Cheetahs a place in the final.
While speedster Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Hunduza, Takudzwa Kumadiro, Connor Pritchard, Biselele Tshamala and Tapiwa Tsomondo showed some flashes of brilliance, it was evident that the Cheetahs lacked game time and they paid the price when it counted the most.
Injury to burly centre Shingirai Katsvere on the first day did not help matters, with Martin Mangongo replacing him. — @Mdawini_29