It's a battle of brains: Mitchell

HARARE - Old Georgians player-coach Grant Mitchell expects a “mental” game when the defending Zimbabwe champions clash with Matabeleland Warriors at Hartsfield Stadium in one of two blockbuster National Rugby League (NRL) semi-finals this afternoon.

OGs, who have won the Zimbabwean rugby title for the past three years, narrowly lost 21-20 to Warriors in their last visit to Bulawayo before scrapping through in the second half to win the reserve fixture in Harare over a month ago.  

“This a semifinal featuring the two of the top four teams in the country, we are not taking it lightly,” Mitchell told the Daily News yesterday.

“We got to try beat them on their home ground, which is a difficult thing to do. It’s a mental game. The physical side was done the whole season. It’s now mental. It’s now about taking your opportunities, taking charge of the game. That’s where our senior players like Jacques Leitao, Fortune Chipendo and Piet Joubert will be needed.”

Mitchell is also anticipating a tough and spirited contest from the Matabeleland Warriors’ forwards pack, especially their back row.

“Any team is hard to beat at home.  We expect them to be on top of their game. They have a fairly decent loose forward combination, which features national side eighthman Norman Mukondiwa and (former Zimbabwe Under-21 captain) Lucky Sithole.”

Mitchell reveals the Harare giants are unwavering in their bid to win their fourth NRL title in succession.  

“That’s why people play rugby,” Mitchell said. “The hardest thing is to retain a title. We are building a culture at Old Georgians. One of teamwork, training methods and a professional approach expected of Zimbabwean club rugby players.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell has reshuffled his side for today’s match, starting at fullback where Ryan Sprake takes the place of “resident number 15” Alfred Ruwanda, who has left for studies in the UK.

Sprake has played at scrumhalf, centre and wing throughout the season.

Rookie back Tafadzwa Mudoti makes his first start of the season at right wing while the fit-again Andre Pike gets the nod on the left to complete the back three for OGs.

“We are missing quite a few outside backs,” said Mitchell. “Alfred has gone to the UK, Justin Coles is writing exams, Delroy Taremekedzwa suffered a concussion and is recovering while Craig Elcombe has a hamstring injury.”

Mitchell has picked himself at inside centre, which sees Ian Armstrong claim the flyhalf position while Sables scrumhalf Scotty Jones completes the halfback pairing.  

“This is traditionally my position (centre), but OGs hasn’t had a genuine number 10 in recent times,” said Mitchell. “Armstrong has been our regular scrumhalf until Scotty moved back to Harare.”

In the forwards pack, OGs will bank on the experience of Zimbabwe international loose forwards, captain Leitao and flank Chipendu as well as prop Joubert.

They also have a competent lock-p airing of Scott Flowers and American Mark Versules.

In the other semi-final, bitter rivals Harare Sports Club, runners-up in the last three seasons, come face-to-face with former glamour club Old Hararians in the third Harare derby of the season.

OGs LINE-UP


15 – Ryan Sprake, 14 – Tafadzwa Mudoti, 13 – Tatas Mutataguta, 12 – Grant Mitchell, 11 – Andre Pike, 10 – Ian Armstrong, 9 – Scotty Jones, 8 – Jacques Leitao, 7 – Farai Jijita, 6 – Fortune Chipendo, 5 – Mark Versules, 4 – Scott Flowers, 3 – Piet Joubert, 2 – Kudakwashe Makuvire, 1 – Richard Van Breda.

Subs: 16 – Mark Langerman, 17 – Teddy Chigumbu, 18 – Vakai Hove, 19 – Edson Muyambo, 20 – Travolter Chipendu, 21 – Philip Jeans, 22 – Raymond Nyatikonde, 23 – Josh Gray.

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