The Zimbabwe Sevens Rugby team once again fell short of gaining automatic qualification to the Olympics reigniting debate on what needs to be done for Zimbabwe National rugby teams to grace major competitions.
Zimbabwean rugby has built a reputation of falling when it matters the most.
The old adage of being so near yet so far unfolded once again at the recently held Africa Men’s sevens rugby tournament where the Cheetahs all but surrendered their Olympic dream following a 21-12 semi-final loss to Uganda. There might still be a repechage to look forward to, but that presents an even tougher challenge for Zimbabwe.
Following two world cup appearances in 1987 and 1991 the Zimbabwe fifteens rugby team has found qualification for the global showpiece elusive, with some fans finding comfort in watching Zimbabwean born and bred stars representing other nations such as Tendai “beast” Mtawarira.
Zimbabwean born, Tendai Mtawarira, who at one stage turned out for the Zimbabwe under 18 rugby team recently hogged the limelight following South Africa’s world cup triumph. There have been arguments Mtawarira’s achievement should not be a reason to celebrate as the nation’s success should be measured by the preformance of our national teams.
Given Zimbabwe’s string of near misses, the Zimbabwe rugby union believes the psychological factor has been the major stumbling block.
“We have come so near but I think the major issue has been our players failure to handle pressure at critical moments. It is more or less psychological hence I feel that there is need for us to invest on that front,” says Nsikelelo Sibanda, Zimbabwe Rugby Union Technical Director.
After representing Zimbabwe for a lengthy period of time, former Zim sevens player, Fortune Chipendu, has pursued a path of nurturing talent from the high density suburb of Mabvuku. For all his efforts, Chipendu is somewhat disappointed that youngsters talented enough to represent the country are not being given the chance.
“There is a lot of talent out here, I think the onus is on the coaches to come out and search for talent which is here. I think there is a lot of young talent and I can tell you that at Mabvuku we will be supplying a player to Old Georgians that will be travelling to Dubai. I think this says a lot in terms of the talent that is there it is just up to the coaches,” noted Chipendu.
While there have been some strides made in introducing rugby in some high density areas such as Mbare and Mabvuku, some argue that several outlying areas remain shut out from a game which is still a preserve for those located in urban areas.
Like many outlying areas, Domboshava is a typical example of an area where children lacked rugby exposure. This was until Takudzwa Ngirandi introduced the game at Zimbiru primary school which is located in the heart of Domboshava.
Despite being equipped with just 2 balls and a bumpy football pitch, rugby is emerging as a source of hope for many of the children that converge for training 3 times a week.
16-year-old Naftalie Frank is one of the bright prospects, having been called up for national team trials at Under 14 and Under 16 levels.
“I love rugby and have dreams of having a bright future through rugby,” says Naftalie.
The girl child has also been given an opportunity to showcase talent with Farai Museketi among those that have shone, scooping some accolades which are proudly displayed at her parents’ home.
“I used to be at loggerheads with my daughter over her pursuit of rugby given that she once broke her leg. Since coming back home with a certificate and trophy that stance has changed. We are now very supportive having realised that she is talented in rugby,”
With Domboshava providing an example of how the game can spread far and wide, the Zimbabwe Rugby Union acknowledges the need for more efforts on that front, but financial muscle is being deemed as the major stumbling block.
“It is true that we have a lot of talent as a country. I think what lacks are the resources maybe to be able to go out in the countryside and pick out talent. It requires a lot of resources,” noted Sibanda
As rugby fans continue to wait for the day Zimbabwe announces its presence among the big boys of world rugby, the Zimbabwe rugby union ultimately have the responsibility of coming up with a formula which will ensure there is success on the rugby front.