HARARE – On Tuesday the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) named a strong 24-man squad for this weekend’s tri-nation contest in Windhoek with hosts Namibia and Kenya.
The Sables will face long-time nemesis Namibia on Friday in a tournament opener set to be a thriller before winding up against continental champions Kenya on Tuesday.
The famous Sables-Namibia rivalry is well-documented.
Traditionally, Zimbabwe have struggled in this fixture on the physical aspect of the game due to nature and genetics, as generally our players are smaller but quicker compared to the Namibians, hence the running rugby style has always suited us better as a nation.
Namibia are naturally huge and have dominated over the years with their imposing forwards pack by beating the Sables 21 times in 24 meetings. In the majority of these encounters, they have dominated in the tighter exchanges, where they have constantly bullied Zimbabwe into submission.
Lately, Kenya as well have seized the opportunity and have targeted that aspect of the game when playing against Zimbabwe.
And for this tournament, Sables coach Brendan Dawson, equipped with a beefed-up technical department which now includes new technical director Liam Middleton, has opted to go for size upfront to neutralise the opponents physically.
He has selected the inexperienced trio of hooker Royal Mwale, lock Martin Wolfenden and loose forward Andrew Rose, whose sheer size and power could be vital in securing the ball for the pacey and skilful backline to work with.
Former Zimbabwe Under-19 captain Michael Passaportis, who currently plies his trade at French fourth division side Valence, is a strong jumper who has been added into the mix as line-out option.
Lock Passaportis and loose forward Kingsley Lang are the only uncapped men in the forwards pack.
Prop Kevin Nqidi returns to the team for the first time in six years, having won his first and last cap for Zimbabwe against Zambia at home in 2007.
Nqidi, who plays league rugby in Cape Town, comes in at the expense of Old Georgians’ Jakov Jakov, having impressed selectors during camp in Bulawayo last week.
In the backline, three players will play for the first time in the green-and-white of Zimbabwe.
Old Hararians fullback Lungile Tshuma forces his way into the touring squad on the back of a splendid season for the newly-crowned Zimbabwean champions. Tshuma’s silky skills and running style are likely to add a new dimension to the way the Sables backline operate.
Centre Sean Moan, of Blackheath Rugby Club in England, is another new kid on the block and will partner skipper Daniel Hondo in midfield in what promises to be an explosive centre-pairing for the Zimbabweans.
England-based Hilton Mudariki, a genuine kicking option with a high percentage for the Amersham & Chiltern club, is the third new cap in that department.
The biggest casualty in the backline is Old Georgians wing Kuda Chiwanza, who was also outstanding for his club in the past season. The young livewire did not get things awfully wrong to be dropped, but being a specialist wing in a team with increased competitions for spots meant he was always fighting for a place with more versatile backline players like Tangai Nemadire, Lungile Tshuma and Stephan Hunduza – who can fit in most roles in case of emergency.
Forwards: Nick Winwood (Blackheath, England), Pieter Joubert (OGs), Kevin Nqidi (Belhar Rugby Club, SA), Fidel Nyabusha (HSC), Keith Murray (OGs), Royal Mwale (Ballito Dolphins, SA), Jan Ferreira (Mat Warriors), Michael Passaportis (Valence, France), Martin Wolfenden (Cambridge RFC, England), Kingsley Lang (Jersey, England), Fortune Chipendo (OGs) Jacques Leitao (OGs, vice-captain), Andrew Rose (Boroughmuir, Scotland).
Backs: Phil Machisa (HSC), Hilton Mudariki (Amersham & Chiltern, England), Boyd Rouse (OGs), Lenience Tambwera (HSC), Tichafara Makwanya (OH), Daniel Hondo (HSC, captain), Sean Moan (Blackheath, England), Stephan Hunduza (HSC), Gardner Nechironga (OH), Lungile Tshuma (OH), Tangai Nemadire (OH).