Can makeshift Sables survive?

HARARE – Zimbabwe rugby coach Brendan Dawson on Tuesday named five new caps in the starting line-up to face hosts Madagascar in the Africa Cup opener in Antannarivo Wednesday afternoon.

The Sables, who are the defending champions, must at least stay up in the Confederation of African Rugby (Car) Group 1A to keep their 2015 World Cup hopes alive.

The tournament in this expansive Indian Ocean Island also serves as part of the World Cup qualification process.

To remain in the group, Zimbabwe, who are depleted after 10 players were sacked by the union following a bitter rebellion, must at least win one of their two games here.

The first game, of course, is against this rugby-mad island nation, the only country in Africa where rugby is the number 1 national sport.

The Malagasy play in front of at least 40 000 spectators at a newly-built stadium in the capital.

The winner will play the winner between Kenya and Uganda for the right to be called champions of Africa.

The losers will play in a crucial play-off. Crucial in that the losing team in the play-off will be relegated from Group 1A, and with that goes their England 2015 dream up in smoke.

The losing team in the play-off will be replaced by continental giants Namibia, who are now waiting in the wings after being promoted two months ago.

The winner of the Group 1A tournament next year automatically qualifies for the 2015 World Cup.

So for Zimbabwe, with the unrest in their camp ahead of the trip, staying up in the elite group, rather than retaining the title they won in Tunisia last year, will be chief priority.

And on Tuesday, Dawson, with the help of an IRB-sent expert backline coach, included five debutants in the first XV, two in the forwards and three in the backline.

Former youth international, Simbarashe Bwanya, who turns out for College Rovers in Durban, makes his debut at lock, partnering the experienced Jan Ferreira.

Ex-Young Sables captain Andy Rose earns his first cap alongside stand-in captain Jacques Leitao and eighthman Njabulo Ndlovu to complete the loose trio.

In the backline, young Old Georgians flyhalf Boyd Rouse becomes the latest player to receive his first Zimbabwe cap in the number 10 jersey.

Rouse’s fellow newcomers in the backline are France-based star centre Garth Ziegler, and winger Tafadzwa Chitokwindo.

STARTING XV: 1. Pieter Joubert, 2. Keith Murray, 3. Tapiwa Mangezi, 4. Jan Ferreira, 5. Simba Bwanya, 6. Jacques Leitao, 7. Andy Rose, 8. Njabulo Ndlovu, 9. Phil Machisa, 10. Boyd Rouse, 11. Stephen Hunduza, 12. Shayne Makombe, 13. Garth Ziegler, 14. Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, 15. Lenience Tambwera.

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