Sables head coach Brendan Dawson still believes his injury-ravaged squad can make history by securing the country’s qualification for their first Rugby World Cup since 1991 during the 2022 Africa Cup in France next month.
Dawson was on Friday night forced to name several uncapped players among the 31-man party that will leave for Paris today to begin the final phase of preparations for the 2022 Africa Cup which will double as the final qualifier for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Zimbabwe’s squad was announced on the eve of their final Currie Cup First Division match against Valke at Wynberg Boys High School which they lost 26-16 to finish the campaign with three wins and six losses in their maiden campaign in the South African competition.
His options have been hampered by an extensive injury list that includes former captain Brendon Mandivenga and other full internationals Ernest Mudzengerere, Blithe Mavesere, Farai Mudariki and Kudakwashe ‘Goofy” Nyakufaringwa.
Other potential starters Andrew Evans, Tavonga Ablant, Brendon Mandivenga and Connor Pritchard were also ineligible for selection due to injuries.
Dawson admits he will be down to the bare bones in a number of key positions when they open their Africa Cup campaign against Ivory Coast on July 2.
The inspirational former Zimbabwe rugby team captain, who took the Sables to the brink of the 2015 World Cup qualification in his first stint as coach, however, remains optimistic that they have enough depth in their squad to get the job done in France.
“I am happy with the squad that we have, but we have also had one or two bad injuries, our main locks are no longer with us being Goofy and Andrew Evans. Both of them have pulled out to injuries, so that is a big blow to our system and to the team. However, the other guys are stepping up and are doing the job we ask them to do,” Dawson said.
Dawson also lamented the unavailability of a number of overseas-based professionals, who had made themselves unavailable for national duty after initially agreeing to represent the country during the World Cup qualifiers.
The Australia-based duo of scrumhalf Ian Prior and centre Kyle Goodwin, who both play for Super Rugby outfit Western Force, had initially expressed interest to play for the Sables in France but both reportedly changed their minds at the eleventh hour.
Dawson also said England-based lock Eli Snyman, France-based flyhalf Jason Robertson and Pumas second rower Darrien Landsberg had had turned down national call-ups at the last minute after initially agreeing to feature in the World Cup qualifiers in France.
“We also had a few foreign-based players who had said they would be coming, but have let us down drastically at the last minute when we had sort of pencilled them in to go to France. They were top quality international players, but they have let us down drastically which has hit us hard, but the guys who have come in have stepped up to the plate,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Sables, who are expected to depart for France today, will wind up their preparations for the World Cup qualifiers by playing the Netherlands in a high-profile Test match in Amsterdam on June 25.
Sables final squad
Tyran Fagan, Victor Mupunga, Gabriel Sipapate, Cleopas Kundiona, Matthew Mandiona, Bornwell Gwinji, Liam Larkan, Royal Mwale, Godfrey Munzanargwo, Goodwin Mangenje, Sean Beevor, Biselele Tshamala, Kelvin Kanenungo, Johan Du Preez, Nyasha Tarusenga, Aiden Burnett, Jason Fraser, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Hilton Mudariki, Kyle Galloway, Takudzwa Musingwini, Takudzwa Chieza, Riaan O’Niel, Marcus Nel, Tapiwa Mafura, Matthew McNab, Shingi Katsvere, Brendon Marume, Shayne Makombe, Ngoni Chibuwe, Martin Mangongo
Travelling Reserves: Tawanda Matipano, George Saungweme, Carlos Matematema
Head coach: Brendan Dawson
Assistant coach: Pieter Benade
Assistant coach: Ashley Wells
Assistant coach: Graham Knoop
Team manager: Jason Maritz
Team doctor: Tapfuma Parirenyatwa
Physiotherapist: Alice Randall