Before the onset of the qualifiers, Sables fans would have envisioned their team fighting for the sole automatic ticket to the World Cup finals with Namibia and probably Kenya, but as the final of the Africa Gold Cup looms this weekend, the Zimbabwe 15s national side are staring at the ignominy of relegation to the second tier competition.
BY Kevin Mapasure
Having collected just three points from four matches so far, the Sables are 17 points less than the table-toppers Nambia, while Kenya sit on second position with 17 points and go into the final round in with a chance to claiming the automatic spot .
After appointing former Springbok coach and clinching a $1 million sponsorship package, there was an air of optimism that this could be Zimbabwe’s year, considering that for the 2015 World Cup finals, Zimbabwe missed out of an automatic ticket due to an inferior points difference to Namibia.
For this edition, the preparations have been better than what the class of 2014 went through and this time around too money has not been an issue.
Peter De Villiers’ class was favoured with training camps in Harare, Bulawayo as well as in South Africa, where they had some preparatory matches, which the group for the previous qualifiers were not privileged with.
Yet the results this time have been as disappointing as they have been embarrassing at times.
They started off with a gutting 23-all draw at home against Morocco, which they followed up with a 43-36 defeat to Kenya in a match they feel they should have won.
It didn’t get better against Tunisia, losing 18-14 on the road before they were hammered 58-28 by Namibia at Hartsfield in their last match.
This has been a disappointing run, compared with the last set of qualifiers that were hosted by Madagascar, where the Sables beat both Kenya and the hosts before losing to Nambia.
In the end, Nambia, Zimbabwe were placed second and Kenya, who finished third, all had 10 points
Namibia claimed top spot and the ticket to England and Wales as they had a points difference of 76 compared to Zimbabwe’s 49 while Kenya had 23.
While other nations have improved, it’s only Zimbabwe in their top-tier that have regressed, with Morocco doing well to earn themselves some points at the Harare Sports Club.
Tunisia are also threatened with relegation, but go into the final round of matches with a point better than Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe will go into their match against the Cranes desperate for a win that would guarantee their place in the Gold Cup next year. But beating the Cranes in their own backyard will be a tall order for the Sables, who have since lost Hilton and Farai Mudariki as well as Linience Tambwera, who did not travel with the team for different reasons.
In their last two clashes, Uganda managed to prevail both in Harare and Kampala in the last two years.
In 2016, Uganda conquered the Sables in their own backyard with a 34-27 success while last year they ran out 38-12 victors over Cyprian Mandenge’s side.
Cyprian Mandenge’s tenure with the Sables was generally viewed as a monumental failure, but De Villiers could outdo him if the Sables get related or if they finish off the campaign without a single win.
In this campaign, Uganda have proved to be a formidable side although they were mauled 55-6 by Namibia in Windhoek, before losing 38-22 against Kenya.
They thrashed Tunisia 67-12 before they made sure of survival with a 47-29 win over Morocco.
It will be another tough encounter for Zimbabwe who will be looking to stem their winless run against their opponents tomorrow.