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IT will be make-or-break for Zimbabwe’s Sables this afternoon when they face off against Kenya in a must-win crunch Rugby Africa Gold Cup Test at the REUFA Ground in Nairobi.
The Sables go into battle in the East African country knowing they have to show they have the quality to be serious contenders for a place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
This year’s Gold Cup matches are also serving as Africa’s qualifiers for the global rugby showcase and the Sables are trying to end Namibia’s stranglehold on this tournament.
The Namibians have won the last five editions of the Gold Cup and have been a regular feature at the World Cup, filling Africa’s only other slot at the showcase where the Springboks are guaranteed an automatic place.
But the Sables believe they are poised to offer the biggest challenge to the table-topping Welwitschias who have 10 points.
A false start in which they were surprisingly held 23-23 at home by Morocco at home has left the Sables in fourth place behind Namibia, Kenya (five), and the North Africans (four) with the winless pair of Uganda and Tunisia anchoring the standings.
But Peter De Villiers’ men could ease into second place with victory in Nairobi today and the veteran coach has made some changes to the side which started against Morocco, which team manager for this tour of duty Derek Chiwara believes will galvanise the Sables today.
The Sables will be without scrum-half Hilton Mudariki for both this afternoon’s match, and next Saturday’s assignment in Tunisia, with Ernest Mudzengerere being roped into his place.
They will also be without the duo of Ngoni Chibuwe and Connor Pritchard who will now be focussing on Sevens duties with the Cheetahs ahead of their World Cup sojourn in the United States.
Chiwara spoke of high levels of confidence in the Sables camp and the former Harare Sports Club eighth-man believes captain Denford Mutamangira and his troops will get it right this time.
“Both the coach and the captain have been clear in their message to the players and the main message has been that… trust the process, work on the systems and let’s have team cohesion,’’ Chiwara said.
Apart from infusing the youth that former Under-20 players such as wing Mathew McNab, fullback Shingi Katsvere, forward Cleopas Kundiona and Jeremiah Jaravaza, De Villiers has also called on the experience of South Africa-based flanker Johannes Stander and Tafadzwa Mhende as the Sables look to re-assert their dominance over the Simbas.
“The squad changes have had a positive impact; the key thing has been to rope in team players. Individuals who work on bolstering team cohesion.
“The team has really intensified their training sessions and have not left no stone unturned,” Chiwara said
The Kenyans have made three changes to the side that started last weekend’s 28-24 Gold Cup win away to Morocco and have handed Malcolm Onsando his full test debut.
The 23-year-old lock has made two previous appearances from the bench, featuring in the 34-16 win over Uganda in Kampala on 26 May and last weekend’s victory in Morocco.
He will partner Andrew Chogo in the second row.
Open-side flank Elkeans Musonye and regular fly-half Isaac Adimo return to the starting line-up after missing out on last week’s sojourn to North Africa.
Musonye replaces Philip Ikambili who suffered a concussion last weekend while Adimo comes into a back-line that sees Darwin Mukidza move to inside centre in the absence of Leo Seje.
Twenty year-old Edmund Anya has also been handed only his second start in a Simbas shirt in place of Jacob Ojee who is absent from this fixture.