Mukondiwa sounds Matland battle cry

HARARE - Matabeleland Warriors senior player Norman Mukondiwa says winning the National Rugby League (NRL) title today will help revive the game in the province, once a dominant force in Zimbabwean rugby.  
 
The Warriors take on hosts Harare Sports Club this afternoon in an epic NRL final hoping to end a 12-year title barren spell for Bulawayo teams.

Not since the turn of the millennium, when a star-studded Old Miltonians side made up of such fine players as Brendan Dawson, Dave Walters, Rean van der Merwe, Jeff Tigere, TJ Madamombe, Karl Mudzamba, Tafadzwa Manyimo, Danny Kaschula, Shaun Williams, Brian Beattie — among an amazing array of red-hot Zimbabwean rugby talent — had a team from the City of Kings won the country’s premier rugby competition.

The closest any team from the country’s second largest city came to win the national title was in 2004 when Matabeleland Busters, present day Matabeleland Warriors, lost in the final to Godwin Murambiwa’s trailblazing Old Hararians in the capital.

Due to such factors as economic hardships and player exodus, Matabeleland rugby sunk to its lowest ebb, with the region even failing to field clubs in the National League until three seasons ago.

Under the guidance of former Zimbabwe international Rueben Kumpasa as coach, and supported by dedicated individuals and companies determined to breathe life back into the sport in Matabeleland, this season, the Warriors assembled a young, dedicated outfit which turned Hartsfield Stadium into a punishing fortress.

They were undefeated at home throughout the season.

Sables eighthman Mukondiwa had just left Milton Boys High in Bulawayo and was a rookie at OMs when the club clinched the title back in 2000, but today, it is in the colours of local rivals Matabeleland Warriors that he is determined to bring the glory days back to his home town.

The 31-year-old experienced loose forward, who featured for the Warriors periodically this season in-between his commitments for the False Bay Rugby Club in Cape Town, rallied his fellow teammates to bring the trophy to Bulawayo for the first time in over a decade.

“It’s a good inspiration for us, a final for a Matabeleland club in quite a long time,” Mukondiwa, who was born in Harare and raised in Bulawayo, told the Daily News yesterday.
 
“To come this far is a positive thing in itself. It’s only going to boost rugby in Matabeleland.

“Matabeleland rugby had died in the past three years or so — so guys must work hard to restore it. It’s obvious that no one goes into a match to just take part. We want to compete, and ultimately win.

“We also want to play an exciting brand of rugby. We have good talent in our squad.

“The youngsters have done well throughout the season on their own. That’s enough motivation for them.”

Mukondiwa added that while their opponents today are known for their backline prowess, the forward battle is likely to decide the title destination.

“Actually, the battle is upfront,” Mukondiwa said.

“Whoever is going to win this battle will take the title.

“Sports Club have a highly-rated backline, but bear in mind that we are equally good in that department with (flyhalf Paul) Staak, (centre) Lloyd (Machanjaire) and (wing) Jafet (Ndebele).

“The real game will be won and lost in the forwards. It depends which pack is better. It’s a typical final; no space is given to you.

“Finals are closely-contested so it’s going to be physical upfront. Forwards who dominate will give a platform to their quarter-quarters.”

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