Jacques targets Zim redemption at SA Sevens

HARARE - With 15 core teams on the HSBC Sevens World Series, just one place is available for a qualifier at each of the nine rounds.

Tonga were present on Australia’s Gold Coast and next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens hosts Russia competed in Dubai last weekend.

Both sides could only reach the Shield semi-finals in those tournament outings but at the Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens this weekend the Spar Zimbabwe Sevens team will be given their chance on the big stage, and Jacques Leitao believes his side has a real chance of finishing higher up the ladder.

With a pool consisting of Canada, Portugal and USA, the captain has even set his side the goal of reaching the Cup quarterfinals.

“It seems to be a relatively good pool for us, but every team has shown they can upset the bigger teams,” said Leitao. “In Dubai, Portugal beat England and South Africa and reached the Cup with Canada.

“We know we have a big task ahead of us but just at the back of our minds we know that we can beat these teams, so we fancy our chances.

“It is our goal to beat them, and to reach the Cup, and we believe we can. I am sure they have the same belief in their camp, but for us we know we played them recently, we have prepared well and are just looking forward to a good game.”

The head-to-head statistics ahead of the third round of the Series suggests it will be an interesting pool. Zimbabwe’s first match is against Canada, against whom they have recorded three victories in eight meetings, and against the USA both they sides will know have three wins each in six encounters.

In Hong Kong earlier this year Zimbabwe were competing with the likes of Canada and Portugal for the three core team spots available for this season.

Leitao and his side recorded a 24-21 victory over the eventual winners Canada in pool play, and only narrowly lost to Portugal 21-17 in their quarterfinal thanks to a last-minute try from Goncalo Foro.

Heartbreaking at the time, it was a match which saw their hopes of core team status end and Portugal’s remain.

“That was a difficult defeat to take,” added Leitao. “We led 17-7 just over a minute left and ended up losing.

“We have a couple of new players in though now, strength and conditioning has been a major factor that we have been working on since, and obviously our goal is now qualifying for London in Hong Kong, and then becoming a core team for next year and we also have the World Cup in June.”

In September Zimbabwe won the CAR African men’s qualifying tournament for RWC Sevens 2013 to book their place at the Moscow showpiece along with runners-up, Tunisia.

In the all-important semi finals, the Cheetahs beat Nigeria 19-14 and that recent success has given Leitao and his side preparation coming into this weekend, where last year they received unprecedented support from the home crowd in Port Elizabeth.

“The support we get here too is good, and if it is anything like last year it will be great.

“The brand of Zimbabwe Sevens is exciting and fast rugby, so we will just be hoping to bring that this weekend, keep our accuracy up, and hope to come away with some results.” — IRB.com

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