ZIMBABWE will tour Tunisia early next month with a 26-man squad to launch their bid for 2023 Rugby World Cup qualification, after being allowed to travel amidst new Covid-19 lockdown measures in the southern African country.
The Sables will now set up a two-week training camp in Tunisia ahead of this year’s phase of Africa region qualifiers – to be played between 9 and 17 July – after failing to add more preparatory matches before the crucial North African trip. After hosting and beating neighbours Zambia in two friendly ties early this month, the original warm-up itinerary would have seen the Sables also play rivals Namibia – home and away – before winding up with a clash against Blue Bulls Select in Pretoria on 3 July.
All this did not materialise due to lockdown restrictions, so the Sables are now scheduled to fly out to Tunisia on 4 July for a training camp ahead of their opening Pool D match against rank outsiders Burkina Faso on 13 July.
A clash between the Sables and hosts Tunisia will then wrap up the three-team pool on 17 April, with the top two sides proceeding to the business end of the World Cup qualifiers next year.
Zimbabwe last month assembled a large provisional squad for an intensive training camp in Harare, which has culminated in the selection of the trimmed Tunisia-bound side.
All but two of the travelling party got a taste of action against Zambians, putting Brendan Dawson’s men in good stead ahead of the two Tests in Tunisia.
Only the England-based pair of winger Matthew McNab and the uncapped loose-forward Sebastian Roche did not play in the Zambia friendlies as they were still travelling home to join camp.
With the Currie Cup in full swing in South Africa, Zimbabwe will be pleased they have been authorised to travel to North Africa with fast-rising flank Blithe Mavesere, who a fortnight ago was signed by Durban-based giants Sharks following stunning performances in his debut Varsity Cup season for the University of Western Cape.
The explosive 22-year-old back-rower will link up with his new Sharks teammates – who include South Africa’s World Cup-winning captain and fellow flank Siya Kolisi – after the Tunisia trip.
The Zimbabweans are aiming to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1991.