Zimbabwe Sables crowned African rugby champions
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The Sables steady progress on the international scene finally brought the African title to Zimbabwe after the national rugby side beat Uganda 22-18 in the Africa Cup final in Tunis, Tunisia on Saturday.
It was a long progressive journey that started in 2009 when the Sables took part in the Confederation of Africa Cup Southern Region tournament in Botswana, and the Sables won the tournament.
A year later, Zimbabwe took part in the Victoria Cup after former vice president and Under-20 chairman Aaron Janiâ€™s bid to join Kenya and Uganda saw the tournament becoming a tri-nations event played home and away.
And all this time it was coach Brandon Dawson and assistant Cyprian â€œSupa Coachâ€ Mandenge who were in charge of the Sables after they were appointed by the then Bruce Hobson-led Zimbabwe Rugby Union board.
But it was last year that the Sables finally got on their feet to win the Victoria Cup beating both Uganda and Kenya home and away and also beat Madagascar to win the Africa Cup Group 1B tournament. Under the guidance of Mandenge in Kampala last year after Dawson was not able to travel due to other commitments, the Sables destroyed hosts Uganda in the first game before beating Madagascar to gain promotion into the World Cup qualifying Group 1A.
This marked the awakening of the sleeping African rugby giant as Zimbabwe went on to win the Victoria Cup for the first time, got their highest ranking ever (32), finished the season with a record equalling five game unbeaten run and above all were promoted to Group 1A.
And it was on Tuesday that the Sables showed their intention of bringing the cup home with a 30-14 win over hosts Tunisia in the first semi-final, to set up a final berth against Uganda who had beaten rivals and East African neighbours Kenya 20-19 in the other semi-final.
Led by veteran lock and captain Costa Dinha, the Sables gave their all in the final and at one stage were leading 22-3 and Uganda fought back hard scoring 15 unanswered points but all the Sables could do was hold on.
Surely, they held on till the last minute and relief, tears of joy and wild celebrations from the boys in the striped green and white jersey as they laid their hands on the cup for the first time ever.
Having won the Africa Cup after beating Tunisia and Uganda, the Sables have automatically moved to where they belong as the top rugby nation in Africa, as South Africa are not included in this region, extending their unbeaten run to a record of seven successive games.
While there were the likes of the centre pairing of Daniel Hondo and Cleopas Makotose, props Brian Makamure and Denford Mutamangira, loose for wards Shingi Mpofu and Jacques Leitao, wingers Tangai Nemadire, Kudakwashe Chiwanza and Gardner Nechironga were part of last year's campaign there were new faces.
In the forwards Jakov Jakov justified his inclusion in the squad Raymond de Jong fared well at number 15 while top rated Lenience Tambwera's input was not doubted and proved worthy with eighth man TJ Chifokoyo holding the scrum strong from number eight.
Dawson was not hesitant to throw these debutantes in the fray and they showed a reason of being in the squad and with the support of the senior players, they behaved as if they had donned the stripped jersey before.
Last year a number of debutantes also wore the famous jersey and these included the likes of prolific scrummy Charles Jiji, Karuru, Chiwanza who have mostly come through the Under-20 Junior World Rugby Trophy national side.
Jiji, de Jong, Makamure, Karuru, Chiwanza and Tambwera and Tichafara Makwanya have all represented Zimbabwe at the Under-20 level and their integration with the likes of Norman Mukondiwa, Hondo, hooker/flanker Prayer Chitenderu, Dinha, lock Fortune Chipendu and Leitao could carry Zimbabwe through the 2015 World Cup qualifiers next year.
With the Victoria Cup still to come, more is expected from the Sables.
Sables: Denford Mutamangira, Tatenda Karuru, Piet Joubert, Constantine Dinha, Jan Ferreira, Shingirai Mpofu, Jacques Leitao, Norman Mukondiwa, Scotty Jones, Tichafara Makwanya, Kudakwashe Chiwanza, Daniel Hondo, Josh Rowe, Gardner Nechironga , Tangai Nemandire, Brian Makamure, Jakov Jakov, Prayer Chitenderu, Fortune Chipendu, T J Chifokoyo, Charles Jiji, Lenience Tambwera, Raymond De Jong, Cleopas Makotose.
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