Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
THEY might have stumbled in their opening assignment against Morocco but Zimbabwe’s Sables will be hoping to maintain their dominance over Kenya when they resume their Rugby Africa Gold Cup campaign against the East Africans in Nairobi on Saturday.
Zimbabwe will have history tilted in their favour when they face Kenya at the RFUEA Ground in Nairobi.
This is because in 17 meetings between the two nations since 1981, Zimbabwe have won 11 times and lost on six occasions.
The heaviest of the reverses came in the last two years when the Sables, weighed down largely by maladministration, had become a caricature of the side that has previously been to the World Cup.
These included an embarrassing 61-15 humiliation which was attributed to a salary protest by the players in 2016 and last year’s 41-22 loss at the hands of the Kenyans.
Before that huge defeat, the Sables’ biggest win over Kenya had come via a 56-9 thrashing they handed the East Africans on August 13, 1989, in Harare while their last win came in 2015 courtesy of a 25-17 triumph.
Things and times have also changed since Kenya last overpowered Zimbabwe and, with one of new coach Peter De Villiers’ strengths being his ability to work on players’ mental strength, the Sables should turn on the power over the Simbas, who ground out a 28-24 win over Morocco in Casablanca last weekend.
The Sables are expected the leave for Nairobi this morning with De Villiers having made some changes to the side that stuttered to a surprise 23-23 home draw against Morocco on June 16.
Scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki, who has reportedly gone back to his club in Europe, is among the notable absentees from the team that started against Morocco.
Sables interim manager, Derek Chiwara, said yesterday that De Villiers had roped in Ernest Mudzengerere as Mudariki’s replacement with Old Georgians’ Jeremiah Jaravaza also finding a place in the 25-man side that will travel to Nairobi.
Former Harare Sports Club eighthman Chiwara said they will be travelling with two extra players as the Sables would not be returning home after Saturday’s date with Kenya and will be heading to Tunis for the July assignment against Tunisia.
Chiwara expressed satisfaction with the shift which the Sables have put in training since Monday.
He also revealed that big South Africa-based lock Johannes Stander had been cleared by World Rugby to play and has since been drafted into the travelling party.
“We have had three days of intense workout and the team is definitely gelling.
“A lot of homework has been done after the Morocco game, working to correct the mistakes that were made. So, 25 players will travel and we are not coming back after Kenya as we must play Tunisia the following Saturday.
“We also brought in Cleopas Kundiona of Sharks Academy in South Africa, he is a former Junior Sables player, played for the Under-20 and he replaces Gabriel Sipapate at prop.
“Tafadzwa Mhende (Harare Sports Club) comes in as a stand-in backline player and Lucky Sithole, who has previously played for the Sables, also returns to the squad,’’ Chiwara said.
The Sables, according to Chiwara, were also unfazed by Kenya’s narrow victory over Morocco.
“The level where rugby is that you cannot measure your performance on what Kenya or Morocco did.
“We just have to go there and showcase what we are capable of doing.
“We are very positive of our chances, we have a positive vibe in camp and we are all good to go,’’ Chiwara said.
Kenya, just like Zimbabwe, will battle it out in this year’s campaign under the guidance of a new coach — Ian Snook.
But, for captain Denford Mutamangira and his troops, the significance of a victory in Nairobi cannot be over emphasised.
At 34, Mutamangira knows this could be his last crack at a World Cup show and the big prop would want to bow out of his Sables career in style by ending his country’s 27-year wait for a return to the global rugby showcase in Japan next year.