Burning passion of a new Sable

HARARE – Zimbabwe rugby international Andrew Rose – one of the latest exiles to return home and represent his country of birth – has absolutely no doubt in his mind that the Sables can qualify for the 2015 World Cup, but only if preparation “start now, not three weeks before the chance to qualify for the World Cup.”

The former Young Sables skipper, who earned his senior Zimbabwe debut at the African Championships in July, was part of a depleted Sables side which relinquished its African title in Madagascar after losing a hard-fought final 29-17 to Kenya.

PASSIONATE: Andrew Rose, third from left, sings the Zimbabwe national anthem at the African Championships in July in Madagascar.

But Zimbabwe’s 38-18 win over hosts Madagascar in the semi-final made sure the Sables stay up in Group 1A and guaranteed them a place in next year’s crucial competition, which will serve as final qualifier for the 2015 World Cup.

The winner of the 2014 tournament, to be contested by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya and Madagascar, will automatically clinch Africa’s solitary World Cup ticket.

“I think our chances are very high at the moment,” Rose tells the Daily News from Edinburgh, where he has recently been appointed captain of Scottish Premiership side Boroughmuir Rugby Club for the new season.

“There is now some structure in the Zimbabwe Rugby Union, and they are determined to get the best possible 15 out on the park next year. With a few preparation games and some money, I think we can definitely make it. But that preparation has to start now, not three weeks before the chance to qualify for the World Cup. The boys need to be in the gym, getting supplements and technical training so that when we get together they are physically and mentally prepared for the challenge ahead of us. Preparation and commitment is key to our campaign.”

Rose won his first Sables cap in the Africa Cup against Madagascar, alongside several international debutants, in front of a strong 35 000 home crowd in Antananarivo. 

“The experience was amazing and I really loved being a part of the Zimbabwe set-up,” he says. “Madagascar as a country was an experience, to say the least. Visiting it makes you appreciate what we have in Zimbabwe. Playing my first full international cap was a pretty nerve-wrecking experience and playing against Madagascar in Madagascar made it really exciting and interesting. Winning the game, after a pretty shaky start, made it a complete dream. You could see I wasn’t the only one feeling nerves as we let in two quick tries before settling down and playing solid Zimbabwean style rugby. What is special is that we now have another eight players capped and tested for the next couple of games.”

Losing to Kenya in the final was a cause of great disappointment for the 25-year-old flanker, but Rose insists the untried Zimbabwean outfit gave the game away to the East Africans.

“I think we did very well considering the team had no match experience leading up to the tournament. However, I will take nothing away from Madagascar, they played at a very high intensity and made us work hard in defence. They kept us on the back foot by keeping the ball alive and we struggled to get a foot hold in the game. But once we got over the nerves and started to play to our strengths, which were Madagascar’s weaknesses, we got the try just before half time and that was the start of our dominance. Kenya was a well-drilled side which was, I think, from better preparation. They apparently had a few games before the Africa Cup and I think that was the main difference between the two teams. I keep saying to myself that we lost the game rather than Kenya winning it. At the end of the day the main goal was to stay in the group, which we did and now we know what we need to do to beat them next year.”

Zimbabwe travelled to Madagascar minus several key members following a player revolt which resulted in the players being sacked by the ZRU before the trip.

“I was very disappointed with what happened and the timing of it, but I had not been involved before and therefore can’t really comment on why they did it,” remarks Rose. “We’ll never know what difference those players would have made if they had been in the touring squad. I can say that I am extremely proud of the guys that did tour.  It wasn’t an easy place to go play but in the end I think we did our country justice. Capping the new players that went will bear fruit next year as we now have two games under our belts and the taste on victory on our lips.”

A ‘solid Zimbabwean style of rugby’, in Rose’s words, will be the Sables’ trump card in their World Cup quest; a brand of rugby which clearly excites the Harare-born star.

“I think our strength is our mobility, we have a very mobile pack and they are well-drilled, therefore strong in the driving lineouts and strong in the breakdown,” he says.

“In the outfield we have decision makers that play an exciting brand of rugby and they play on the gain line which makes it easier to get over it.  This puts our dynamic forwards on the front foot and with our strong back row, they can interlink with the backs and get round teams as well as through teams.”

It’s hardly surprising that Rose singles out the loose forwards as one of Zimbabwe’s strongest points, with such talents as Jacques Leitao – stand-in captain in the Madagascar tournament – Njabulo Ndlovu, Biselele Tshamala and Rose himself forming a formidable partnership in that department.

A decent ball-carrier and normally one of the first to breakdowns, Rose prefers to play on the open-side flank, where he runs for the entire 80 minutes – making endless tackles and turning over ball.

“I think my main strength is my stamina,” he says. “I play all the positions but I prefer open-side flank if I had to make a call but at the end of the day as long as I am on the playing field I am happy.”

Appointed to skipper Boroughmuir this week, Rose says his experience in Scottish rugby has been second to none.

“My career in Scotland is going alright, we unfortunately got relegated last year and therefore our coaches stepped down. So we have a new coaching team which has a great deal of experience and enthusiasm, which is great for the club and players,” he says. “Having played my first game for them last Saturday, there seems to be a great energy at the club. I think it has be very beneficial for me as it has got me training at a professional standard that Zimbabwe clubs are still striving to attain. I have experienced different coaches, each having a different point of view and therefore teaching me different techniques and ideas. I have also been able to further my personal qualifications while still playing rugby and been able to work in the related fields.”

Born on March 17, 1988 in the Zimbabwean capital, young Andrew was initially raised in the farming areas of Centenary and Macheke, before moving to Marondera at the height of farm invasions.

He was schooled at Digglefold Primary School in the town before proceeding to Watershed College and later Peterhouse, where he completed his high school studies in 2006.

He was awarded a scholarship to Hartpury College in Gloucester, England, where he graduated with a degree in Sports Business Management in 2010.

Upon moving to Scotland, Rose became an instant hit in domestic rugby there, and was duly selected to represent Scotland at Under-21 level.

“I really enjoyed playing for Scotland, it was a dream of mine to play for them,” he says.

“Having just come from the Zimbabwe Under-19 tour to Belfast, playing in the Scotland set-up was very different. The majority of the guys I played with were in some sort of academy, already had their group of friends, played very individual rugby and played under a contract. Playing for Zimbabwe, we were all just mates and played for the love of the game. The other difference was that the Scottish national team is considered a tier one nation and therefore money was not really a problem for them. I think there were seven or eight professionals on their technical team whereas we had five.”

Playing for Scotland Under-21s was no mean feat for a purebred Zimbabwean farm boy, and with several natives having gone on to win test caps for their adopted countries, Rose could have gone the route of a lot of these other players.

“What made me decide to play for Zim? It’s my home country and I wanted to play in a side similar to what I played in the Under-19 World Cup, with a bunch of mates who loved rugby. I had a couple of mates who were playing and they asked me if I wanted to try out for the team,” he says of his loyalty to his country of birth.

Rose is also excited about the future of the game in his homeland, tipping Zimbabwe to reclaim her place on the world rugby map.

“I think it’s going to start growing, with the success of the Sevens and the chance of getting into the World Cup,” he says. “I think we are on the right track. A lot of guys my age are looking to come home and get involved and improve the system and standards in Zimbabwe. Guys that have been outside the country, guys that have experienced different things, they’ll come back and implement them and that will improve all sports all over the country. Fingers crossed anyway.”

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