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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 24: AB de Villiers of South Africa puts his team into positions during the 2015 Cricket World Cup Semi Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Eden Park on March 24, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung-IDI/IDI via Getty Images)

Zimbabwe: De Villiers Era Begins

Zimbabwe will start life under Peter de Villiers when the former Springbok coach takes charge for the first time in a high-profile exhibition match against South Africa’s Blue Bulls at Harare Sports Club tomorrow.

A Zimbabwean invitational side, named Zambezi Steelers, will take on the South African domestic rugby giants in a clash in which former Bok tear-away Tonderai Chavhanga and 62-time capped All Blacks loose forward Rodney So’oialo are set to feature for the home side.

More importantly for de Villiers, it will be the South African’s first real opportunity to evaluate players ahead of a very important year for Zimbabwean rugby.

De Villiers penned a two-year deal with the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) in February with the main task of guiding the Sables to their first Rugby World Cup since 1991.

The next World Cup will be held in Japan next year, and the winner of this year’s Africa Cup will automatically seal a place there.

With Zimbabwe targeting top-class players spread around the globe in the World Cup quest, de Villiers will be pleased by the response from both old and new players — an interest only expected to increase as the Africa Cup draws closer.

Uncapped flank Brian Du Toit, an ex-member of the Ireland Club XV squad, has also responded to his homeland’s call and joins brother Peter Du Toit, who earned Zimbabwe caps during the 2014 qualification competition in Madagascar.

Also among the newcomers to Zimbabwean rugby are flank Mike Botha of the False Bay club in Cape Town and UK-based winger Dylan Baptista, who both start off the bench.

Former youth internationals like centres Brendon Mandivenga and Kudzai Mashawi — who get the nod in midfield against the Bulls tomorrow — are joined in the starting line-up by hooker Clive Musasiwa, flank Aidan Burnett, winger Ziyanda Khupe and fullback Shingi Katsvere.

De Villiers and Zimbabwean rugby have meanwhile received high praise from Chavhanga, who arrived in Harare on Wednesday.

“Look, it’s an absolute privilege to be here,” said Chavhanga in a short video to promote tomorrow’s game.

“I’m so proud and happy to see all the exciting developments around Zimrugby. I’ve no doubt that this year will be the year we turn the tides and make it for the World Cup. It’s about time. In Peter you have a man who have achieved it all. I’ve been keeping tabs on what’s going on, it’s a great opportunity to rewrite history. Whatever knowledge we can pass on, feel free to speak to us.”

Chavhanga and So’oialo will make their appearance off the bench.

Meanwhile, de Villiers this week reinforced his backroom staff by recruiting fellow South African Stanley Raubenheimer as the Sables backline coach.

Former Zimbabwe Under-21 international Kisset Chirengende is the new team manager.

Zambezi Steelers starting XV

15. Shingi Katsvere 14. Takudzwa Kumadiro 13. Kudzai Mashawi 12. Brendon Mandivenga 11. Ziyanda Khupe 10. Lenience Tambwera 9. Hilton Mudariki 8. Tapfuma Parirenyatwa 7. Godfrey Mangenje 6. Aidan Burnett 5. Fortune Chipendu 4.

Johan Stander 3. Clive Musasiwa 2. David Makanda 1. Denford Mutamangira (captain).

Subs: Graham Cochrane, Jakov Jakov, Gabriel Spapati, Moses Gunda, Mike Botha, Brian Du Toit, Peter Du Toit, Rodney So’oialo, Tonderai Chavhanga, Tichafara Makwanya, Jerry Jaravaza, Martin Mangongo, Dylan Batista.

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