HAVING put daylight between them and the rest of Africa over the past two years, Zimbabwean sport’s team of the moment will now dare to challenge some of the world’s best without any fear in July.
Zimbabwe’s Under-20 rugby side heads into the World Rugby Under-20 Trophy in Kenya after dominating the African title in 2022 and 2023 – the last one won in the East African country last month with a brand of stylish and entertaining rugby not seen from any Zimbabwean rugby team in very long time.
The Junior Sables take on Scotland, Uruguay as well as the play-off winner between Canada and the United States.
Talent-laden Zimbabwe open in Group A against the relegated Scotsmen on 15 July.
Global youth international rugby consists of two main competitions, the World Rugby Under-20 Championship for the top-tier nations, and the World Rugby Under-20 Trophy being hosted by the Kenyans.
Although it is the second-biggest global competition at this level, the World Rugby Trophy is still a major step up for African champions Zimbabwe, who with hosts Kenya are the two teams from the continent in the eight-team contest.
“Scotland is a team that has been playing in the Under-20 Six Nations (with England, France, Ireland, Italy and Wales). We’ve had an opportunity to watch them play, they were not the best of teams in the Six Nations,” Zimbabwe’s head coach Shaun De Souza told The NewsHawks this week.
“But they are a team of quality. I think they will be vying to regain their position in the Championship tier, so they definitely want to come and win this World Trophy event. We’ve analysed them, we’ve seen their strengths, and we’ve seen their weaknesses. There are certain areas that we think we can exploit. We just need to perfect those areas, and see where we can compete within their strengths.”
After seemingly running out of competition in Africa, and leaving the Nairobi crowds in awe in the Barthes Trophy last month, the Junior Sables will be back in the Kenyan capital to face their sternest test of depth and character in two years.
“The general feeling is that all teams are technically sound,” commented De Souza.
“They will have size in their packs, they will have a mauling aspect in their line-out. I think we still need to see how mobile they are. We’ve seen Scotland in the Six Nations, they have some speed on the outside. They have some playmakers that can make things happen. So ja, it’s interesting, we are still sizing each other and see who has what arsenal to present at the Junior World Trophy.”
With lots of raw pace and skill, Zimbabwe’s slick backline put the opposition to the sword in the Africa Cup last month, but De Souza’s men were no slouch either in the forwards.
It is however upfront where the Junior Sables need to make vast improvements against opposition of better quality in the World Rugby Trophy, to entertain any chances of leaving the tournament with something.
“Definitely we know our problem areas from the Canada (International Rugby Series) experience last year,” De Souza remarked. “We know our problem areas were the set-pieces – the scrummaging and the mauls. We definitely have put some work in that. If you look at our selection, we now have size, we have mobility. I think we are technically sound in the scrum department. You saw in the (Africa Cup) final versus Kenya, we scrummed and turned over ball with seven men versus eight and in the wet weather. So ja, I think we have ticked some of those boxes. All we can do is perfect them as we go against more astute teams in those departments in the World Junior Trophy. That is definitely our focus. The maul department, we know definitely that Uruguay loves the maul. I’m sure also that Scotland uses the maul quite a bit. So ja, our defensive maul structure is something that we definitely need to keep perfecting, and try make use of as best as we can. Those are definitely the key points and focus areas at the moment. We will keep working on them and try see how best prepared we can be in those departments.”
De Souza is keen on having his team stay in the limelight in the build-up to Zimbabwe’s return to the World Rugby Trophy after a 10-year absence.
“It only makes me want to work even harder, for us to become better, to perform better, knowing that people know how we play, and what style we’re working towards,” said the former Sables ace.
“So from now we can only work on changes, work on adjustments, and work on strategies, which just helps the team get better and stronger. It’s just my preference, I think it works for me, I think it’s exposure for our team. We want universities and clubs to have a look at our players and open up doors and create opportunities.”
De Souza named a large 45-man provisional squad this week, to go through a rigorous training programme culminating in the selection of the final travelling 28.
“It’s a process that we are going through. We have eight weeks to make sure that we perfect that,” he said.
“We have three build-up games within our camp squad set-up. We will play Harare Sports Club, Old Georgians and Old Hararians in the next three weekends, as a build-up to hopefully a triangular series that we are trying to put into place. South Africa is working on their team to play in the Under-20 Championship tier; they are hosting that. We’ve had discussions, it’s still in premature stage, but there is a possibility of having an event where South Africa and Kenya come and play two games against Zimbabwe here in Zim. It’s exciting, it will be a big build-up for all the African teams. The European teams are playing triangular series as well as they prepare. We’re trying to emulate that and help each other leading into these tournaments in July.”
Forwards: Happias Zhou, Gerry Zisengwe, Stan Muranganwa, Tanaka Gondo-Mukandapi (vice-captain), Huntley Masterson, Tanaka Ndoro, Vincent Chimwendo, Farai Madzima, Tendai Maruma, Tadiwa Chimwada, Gealan Jaricha, Takunda Mudzingwa, Allan Mawunga, Leo Mutendi, Hagler Muchenje, Kelvin Kaseke, Tamuka Kambani, Tashinga Makiwa, Nqobile Manyara, Bryan Chiang, Takudzwa Zvomuya, Shingi Manyarara, Tawananyasha Bwanya, Godfrey Zvinavashe, Martin Hakunavanhu, Muzuva Gutu.
Backs: Panashe Zuze (captain), Brendon Marume (vice-captain), Dion Khumalo, Brendan Jameson, Kudakwashe Nyamushaya, Munotida Marimirofa, Tawanda Matipano, Shadrick Mandaza, Benoni Nhekairo, Tanaka Chinyanga, Panashe Mugorogodi, Kelton Kaseke, Welton Charumbira, Cody Grant, Simbarashe Kanyangarara, Alex Nyamunda, Taonaishe Mapani, Tadiwanashe Unganai, Kholwani Moyo.