ZIMBABWE rugby coach Brendan Dawson (pictured) is not downplaying the challenge of Zambia despite his team’s comfortable 31-8 win over the neighbours on Wednesday in the first of two friendlies being staged in preparation for forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.
The Sables cruised to a 31-0 first-half lead at Harare Sports Club with loose-head prop Doug Juszczyk scoring a brace of tries topped up with one each by outside-centre Brandon Mudzekenyedzi and eighth-man Aiden Burnett.
An experimental Zimbabwe side then had a dreary second half and failed to add any points on the board, as the Zambians showed some real intent for the remainder of the tie.
Lack of team familiarity can be attributed to this – Zimbabwe had not played together as a group since August 2019 – but Dawson chose to applaud the Zambians’ effort on Wednesday while looking forward to a tougher contest on Saturday at the same venue.
“It’s going to get even better, the Zambians have something to prove,” Dawson told The NewsHawks on Thursday.
“Everyone thinks their (Zambia) rugby is not of a good quality. But it is. They played with intensity in some parts of the game, and I haven’t seen a team tackle against us like that in a long time. When they had the opportunity, they did come at us yesterday (Wednesday), which was good to see. There were a lot of good things to take.”
Dawson acknowledged some areas of Zimbabwean concern from Wednesday’s match, which he said will be rectified as the squad continue to gel in camp.
“Look, we haven’t played in two years and guys need to get in shape and fit into patterns,” said the 53-year-old ex-international flanker.
“It’s about spending time on the field. Look, we are happy with lots of areas, and there is still a lot of work to be done in a lot of the other areas. We need to work on our line-outs, scrummaging, you know, all the areas we feel we are not accurate enough, the kind of things we need to make sure we are polished. We just need to be clinical.”
Wednesday’s team was a blend of seasoned players, the lesser experienced ones as well as newcomers.
The Sables management will be hugely encouraged by the showing of some of the new call-ups.
Juszczyk and Mudzikenyedzi, two of the try scorers on Wednesday, were raised in New Zealand’s rugby system after migrating there as children with their families. The two are expected to be part of a core group of elite players in Zimbabwe’s World Cup bid.
“Brilliant, isn’t it? What it does is it creates competition, no one feels that their position is guaranteed,” remarked Dawson. “We need to have a selection headache not because we don’t have good players, but because we have quality. We want to be in a position where players pick themselves naturally.”
After Zambia, the Sables will follow up with another warm-up double-header, against rivals Namibia in Harare on 12 June and in Windhoek on 19 June.
On 3 July at Loftus Versfeld in South Africa, they will meet a Blue Bulls select side made up of some of the Pretoria-based union’s Currie Cup and club players.
The Sables will then travel to Tunisia in July for this year’s leg of the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, with the goal of returning to the game’s greatest stage for the first time since 1991.
Dawson, a former Zimbabwe captain, played in that `91 edition in Britain and France. If he can steer the Sables to the 2023 tournament in France, Dawson will become one of a few individuals in the sport to have both played and coached at rugby’s World Cup.