THE Rugby World Cup has provided a number of entertaining games in the group stages, highlighting the improvement of tier-two rugby nations who are gradually closing the gap on the world’s top sides.
One such impressive team has been Uruguay, who have won one of the three games played so far. The game that has won Uruguay praise is one that they actually lost, a 27-12 defeat to the host nation France.
To put this result in context, France won against the mighty All Blacks with almost an identical score line, 27-13. Rugby analysts across the world felt Uruguay were unlucky with a few of the referee’s decision at critical stages of the game going in favour of Les Bleus.
As I watched the match, I could not help but notice a number of familiar faces from the Uruguay team: seven of the players on the field were part of the Uruguay Under-20 team that took part in the 2016 Rugby World Under-20 Trophy held in Harare,
Zimbabwe. These players, with jersey numbers, that now make up the core team for Uruguay, are: Manuel Leindekar (5), Santiago Civetta (7), Manuel Diana (8), Santiago Arata (9), Felipe Etcheverry (10), Tomás Inciarte (13), Guillermo Pujadas (16).
These same seven players, who are aged 27, took part in the 2019 World Cup as well when Uruguay fielded a young team and one is almost certain that, barring injury, the same core players will take part in the 2027 edition and give tournament favourites one more crack.
It is inspiring to see how a team that finished sixth at the Under-20 tournament in Harare seven years ago has come full circle, purely on the basis of being consistent and deliberate on nurturing their talent.
Zimbabwe, who took part in the same tournament, finished eighth. Only one member of the Zimbabwean team back then, Shingi Katsvere, regularly plays for the country’s senior sides these days.
Where are the rest of the boys? Such talent drain explains why Zimbabwe is not in France right now, and why Uruguay are threatening the big boys of the sport at the World Cup.
In 2016, it was clear to all spectators that the Zimbabwe Under-20 had arguably the most talented players in the tournament, but lacked preparation. Zimbabwe had two out of five tries named in the “Try of the Tournament” awards announced by World Rugby.
Namibia, a team that narrowly beat Zimbabwe in the lead up to the tournament, finished in third place. It is clear Zimbabwe had enough talent in 2016 to be playing at the same level as Uruguay are playing at the ongoing 2023 World Cup.
For many years, Zimbabwe has produced world-class sports stars. This is not just in rugby. But our lack of planning and failure to nurture players has seen us fall short of podium performances. “Miracles don’t just happen you make them happen”: (J. Peters, 1952).
Uruguay produced a miraculous performance against France due to consistent deliberate efforts. Zimbabwe usually accepts mediocre performances at national level, hiding behind the excuse that a handful of our players are lured by other nations.
The reality is that every country at the World Cup has lost players to other nations. If there are countries that should be allowed to use this excuse, it should be New Zealand and South Africa, two countries that lose the most talent yet are still the most successful countries in the history of the Rugby World Cup.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Under-20 team produced outstanding performances in 2022 and 2023 to be crowned African champions. We should however not relax and assume that participation at the next World Cup edition in Australia is guaranteed. Collectively as a rugby community, let us plan and ensure our rugby talent achieves the podium performances they deserve.
*Guest columnist and NewsHawks contributor Nyasha Muchochomi is a high-performance enthusiast, leading rugby analyst and sporting talent manager.