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‘They are men, not boys’: Young Sables coach says players must test themselves against seniors



SUCCESS brings attention, and Zimbabwe’s two-time African champions have drawn a lot of it after winning the Under-20 rugby title in April for the second time on the trot. The Young Sables will be playing in the World Rugby Under-20 Trophy tournament in Kenya next month, opening against Scotland on 15 July. The team that wins the tournament gains promotion into the World Rugby Under-20

Championship, which is the first-tier competition in global youth rugby. In preparation for July’s tournament, Zimbabwe’s Under-20 team has been playing matches against local clubs. Before departure for Kenya, the Young Sables will also play against the country’s unofficial Test team, the Goshawks, which this year is a largely developmental side, and has been taking part in the Currie Cup First Division. There has been debate over the pros and cons of the youthful side playing against older players, with a certain school of thought suggesting the young players should not be pitted against older opposition. SHAUN DE SOUZA, the Young Sables coach, reacts in this conversation with ENOCK MUCHINJO.

I don’t understand when guys are saying guys are young and can’t play seniors.

If you look at South Africa, how many under-20s are already playing Currie Cup? How many are playing United Rugby Championship? The 20-year-olds are already the ones making the footprint into those senior teams, the franchises in SA. When they are 19, they are still knocking on the doors. 20 years that’s when they make their names. So I don’t know what people want.

Even Scotland, one of the teams that played in the (Under-20) Six Nations, and we will be facing them. How many of their guys are playing top-flight rugby in a professional league in senior rugby? TJ Maguranyanga is playing in the French league. He’s 21, last year he was 20. People don’t understand what 20-year-olds should be doing. 20-year-olds should be signing professional contracts. So there is nothing bad with playing a senior guy who is at OH (Old Hararians).

I don’t see it as dangerous. It is senior rugby, they are Under-20 men. So that’s why they are categorised as men, not schoolboys, not boys. So it is the right thing. Playing the Goshawks, for us, is a good thing. People don’t see the bigger picture. How many guys who left the under-20s last year are in the Goshawks right now? So it’s a three-year-year window at most. We have guys who played in my 2021 team, ana (the likes of Aaron) Juma, Scotty (Patson), Chief (Tinomukudza Chifumbu). Then last year’s group ana (Ben) Pattenden, (Takudzwa) Musingwini and Dwadwa (Tonderai Chiwambutsa) was the year before in 2020. So I don’t understand what they are talking about.

People are just oblivious to the game. We need the physicality. If we were going to play SA, we were probably going to get pumped 20, 30 points. Because of the level they are at, they are playing against their seniors, week in week out. And we are not. So we need that physicality, that’s why we have been asking to play (Harare) Sports Club, OGs (Old Georgians), OH, the club teams. Because we can test ourselves physically and defensively and get our defensive systems in check, and try our attacking strategies. So playing against Goshawks is actually a need and necessity.

When we played in the Zambian series in 2021, we played the Zambia national team, or second team. What was wrong with that? We pumped them three games in a row. So what’s the difference? I think we need to see the bigger picture, where this team is going. If we are going to play in the Junior World Championship tier, we need to focus where we need to be in the next two years.

If we are trying to get into the Championship tier, we need to be competitive at a higher standard, week in week out. Last week, I played our academy players. I’m trying to work on a strategy that works, that has a two-year, three-year plan. It’s a pathway, it’s not an event, it is a process. It’s new to them (the players), it’s new to me, so I’m trying to put in place a system that works. We are developing a blueprint to see what’s working, what’s not working. Then 2027 World Cup we will be looking at a different story and different composition.