By Petros Kausiyo
ZIMBABWE’S Cheetahs flew out of Harare last night ahead of their somewhat overdue return to the Dubai International Sevens rugby, exactly a month after they were crowned African champions. Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba led the contingent in which the unassuming gaffer continued with his programme of building the Cheetahs player base by blending experienced players and some rookies.
Harare Sports Club’s Kudzai Mashawi, who played centre for the Sables in their 2018 Africa Gold Cup campaign is a notable new face in the side that flew to Dubai via Lusaka.
The Cheetahs had their morale boosted on Thursday night when they received pledges of support from various stakeholders including Government who, through Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, indicated they would be backing them on their return to the big stage of the international Sevens. Coventry also backed Nyamutsamba and his men to do well in both Dubai and their last assignment of the year in Cape Town.
The Cheetahs are also expected to link up with some of their foreign-based players such as Shayne Makombe, Shingi Hlanguyo and Spain-based veteran Ngoni Chibuwe in Dubai where they should touch down this morning. Star player Tafadzwa Chitokwindo of German outfit TV Pforzheim, Connor Pritchard, who plays for Griffith University in Australia, and the South African-based duo of Biselele Tshamala (College Rovers, Durban) and Riaan O’ Neill of False Bay have been in the country and left together with the bulk of the team.
After three days of training camp, the Cheetahs wound up their Zimbabwe leg of preparations by playing a friendly against local club giants Old Georgians.
OGs were also using the encounter with the national team as part of their preparations for an international invitational tourney.
But there is no doubting that claiming the Africa Cup via a 17-5 win over the Kenyan Shujaas in Tunisia last month has left the Cheetahs with a spring in their step.
Nyamutsamba is also aware that the stage will now be different in Dubai as they return to the platform that pits them against some of the world’s best teams.
“The win has been a big boost in morale and has made playing for the team more attractive as everyone enjoys being part of a winning team.” Nyamutsamba said.
The Cheetahs are in a tough Group A that includes neighbours South Africa, South Americans Argentina and Pacific Ocean islanders Samoa.
There will be a strong Zimbabwean presence in Dubai with OGs also expected to be in the United Arab Emirates later today for an invitational tournament.
Former Zimbabwe international Grant Mitchell is coaching OGs whose preparations for the Dubai tour included hosting the ISUZU Series where they won one of two fixtures against Cape Town side False Bay. Mitchell’s Dragons also face some tough assignments in Group B which has 2017 tournament winners Speranza 22, Georgia Developing 7s and the French Military Sevens.
In their first match, Old Georgians will face Georgia Developing 7s on Friday while on the same day the Cheetahs begin their campaign with a tough South African Blitz Bokke test.
Cheetahs delegation: Shingirai Katsvere (Old Georgians), Connor Pritchard (Griffith University, Australia), Kudzai Mashawi (Harare Sports Club), Kudakwashe Chiwanza (Old Georgians), Ngoni Chibuwe (Getxo Errugbia, Spain); Shayne Makombe (FC Compiegne, France); Tafadzwa Chitokwindo (TV Pforzheim, Germany); Biselele Tshamala (College Rovers, Durban-South Africa); Takudzwa Kumadiro (Old Georgians); Tarisai Mugariri (Matabeleland Warriors); Stephan Hunduza (Diggers, Zambia); Riaan O’Neill (False Bay, Cape Town — South Africa); Nelson Madida (Matabeleland Warriors)
Management: Gilbert Nyamutsamba; Gerald Sibanda; Donald Mangenje; Margie Gibson