By Petros Kausiyo and Eddie Chikamhi
Zimbabwe coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba was left purring yesterday after his Cheetahs defied odds and fought their way to be crowned the 2018 Africa Cup Sevens rugby champions in Monatsir, Tunisia.
The Cheetahs upstaged African Sevens giants Kenya in 17-5 in the final at the Jemmal Stadium in Monatsir.
Yet Zimbabwe who only had three days to prepare for the tournament had been rank outsiders with Kenya and defending champions Uganda, always the favoruites to reach the final.
But there is something special about these Cheetahs especially when odds are seemingly staked against them.
They also had to overcome difficult challenges last year when they sealed their qualification for the World Cup.
Yesterday they put all their woes behind them to win the Africa Cup and with it a return to two of the World Series tournaments — the Dubai and Cape Town tourneys.
“All I have is respect and love for the rugby sevens squad,” Nyamutsamba told The Herald.
Nyamutsamba said it was important that he cheetahs ended their absence from the Dubai and Cape Town events which had now stretched for three years.
“If we want to improve, we have to play against the best and getting back to World Series (Dubai and Cape Town) gives us a chance to rub shoulders, learn and experience with the world’s best teams… it’s something that every small union wishes for.
“We have been absent from the world series tournaments for three years now,” Nyamutsamba said.
Cheetahs manager Donald Mangenje also weighed in and said the Zimbabwe sevens team is destined for greater heights after conquering Africa yesterday.
Despite their poor preparations, Zimbabwe still finished the tournament with a 100 percent record.
An elated Mangenje said they had to give credit to the players and their coach Nyamutsamba who faced heavy odds during their preparations last week with little support coming their way.
He was also excited Zimbabwe had given themselves the opportunity to play against the big boys of international rugby at the World series tournaments.
Mangenje implored the Zimbabwe Rugby Union leadership to go out of their way in the difficult conditions and avail more support and resources to the team.
“I think the mood in the camp has been very good. The players have gelled very well together and have stuck to each other despite all the adversities and difficulties that we faced, preparing only for three days and struggling during camp for things like transport because we have got no resources.
“But the players have brought it and they left everything on the park. They have played for their coach and their manager because they love their coach and their manager.
“That is playing against the likes of New Zealand, Australia and England and they will do exactly that in Dubai and in Cape Town and they have got a shot again to qualify for Hong Kong.
“What is important now is that look we have got a special group of players who have done well. What are we going to do as Zimbabwe rugby about those players?
“How are we going to honour them and nurture them and make sure that these are the guys that can take us to the Olympics, to the Commonwealth Games and to the Word Cup” said Mangenje.
Zimbabwe were leading 7-5 against Kenya at half time. They added 10 more points in the second half while restricting their opponents.
Despite missing some regulars in Rian O’Neil, Hilton Mudariki, Shayne Makombe and Boyd Rouse, the team, which finished runners-up to Uganda last year, still managed to stage a big fight.
Nyamutsamba had nine of the veterans of the recent World Cup including German-based star Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Ngoni Chibuwe, Connor Pritchard, Nelson Madida and Biselele Tshamala available.
And they demonstrated that even if life gives lemons they could still turn them into orange juice.
The Cheetahs had won their Pool C which included hosts Tunisia and Mauritius.
They put a great shift from the start winning 34-0 against Mauritius in their opening match and then silencing the hosts with a 26-5 win on Day One.
But their defining moment came in the semi-final when they elbowed out defending champions Uganda 24-19 in a fiercely contested duel.
The match which was a repeat of the 2017 final was decided in the sudden death after the teams had been tied 19-19 at full time.
Uganda went to the break leading 19-0 after a first half was marred with a lot of indiscipline cases that saw the referee dish out three yellow cards with.
Two of the yellow cards went Zimbabwe’s way.
Uganda scored the opening try through Michael Wokorach and Philip Wokorach added the extras for a 7-0 lead. Uganda added the second unconverted try before Ian Munyani scored their third try that was converted for a 19-0 lead.
In the second half, Ofwoyrwoth was red carded and Zimbabwe pulled back one try. They added the second try through Chitokwindo before Shingirai Hlanguyo scored a converted try for a 19-19 tie.
Uganda who were one-man down were punished by Mkululi Ndhlela as they tried a quick start from a line out. The Cheetahs then capped it all with a marvellous run against the Kenyans, who had hitherto not lost a match.