Zim World Cup veteran rallies Sables

HARARE - 1987 ZIMBABWE Rugby World Cup star Grant Davidson has been hugely impressed by the current Sables squad, which has to overcome numerous obstacles in their quest to return to world rugby’s biggest showcase in more than two decades.

Brendan Dawson’s men play in a World Cup qualification tournament in Madagascar at the end of the month against the hosts, Namibia and Kenya. The winner of the four-nation Africa Cup contest automatically qualifies for next year’s World Cup in England.

But unlike their opponents, the Sables have had to make do with limited resources, amongst them failing to secure any significant warm-up matches due to empty coffers.

However, Davidson believes despite several difficulties, the commitment of players who have donned the hooked green and white jersey has been unwavering.

“The drain of our talent, our people who have gone to varsities overseas has been enormous,” Harare-born Davidson tells the Daily News.

“Others have left in search of money. Our rugby structures have suffered. But we can try and mend the bridge if we qualify.

“For the players it could be the start of their careers.

“That’s where people like Richard Tsimba (late) and Adrian Garvey (veteran of two Rugby World Cups for Zimbabwe and South Africa) made rugby a career. Out of being noticed at the World Cup.

“You are on the world stage. Get to the World Cup and make a show. It doesn’t mean if you are not one of the top sides you won’t get noticed.”

The former Oriel Boys High front rower, who earned the nickname ‘Jumbo’ due to his size and strength, was part of the Sables squad that debuted at the 1987 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. He was 26 at the time.

Zimbabwe were competing at the invitation of the International Rugby Board (IRB), chosen as one of 16 countries from among more than 110 rugby playing nations.

Rank outsiders Zimbabwe opened their account at the World Cup against Romania, who had been hugely expected to put the Africans to the sword only to sneak home 21-20 winners.

The Sables then played Scotland in Wellington, losing out 21-60 before their defence was ran rugged by the French 70-12 in their final pool match.

“We let ourselves down severely when we were leading 20-9 against Romania,” Davidson recalls.

“(Centre) Richard Tsimba scored what was later to be one of the best tries of the tournament. He got a pass from Craig Brown down the wing.

“But in scoring that try he injured his shoulder. We tried to defend that lead instead of increasing, it then we were narrowly beaten.

“But the experience was awesome. Here we were, little amateur Zimbabweans who worked from 8am to 5pm every day and then trained from 5pm to half past six.

“That was amazing. That is what the guys are going to find out if they manage to qualify.”

Born in 1961 in the capital, Davidson came to prominence during Harare Sports Club’s tour to England, Scotland and Wales in 1982.

His selection into the national side in 1985 was confirmation of his immense potential.

But a reoccurring back injury and a knee injury would spell the end of his career.

“I had a really bad knee operation and still to this day I’m still waiting for a knee replacement,” he says.

Davidson reckons Tsimba, the first black player to represent his country, is one of the finest talents to emerge out of Zimbabwe.

“He was incredibly talented, if I was to choose the best five players the country has produced, he will be one of them alongside the likes of Ian Robertson,” says Davidson.

“He chose to go to America after that tournament. He didn’t want to work hard but had incredible talent.”

Capped 33 times, Davidson, a freelance car salesman in Harare, was not always a rugby fanatic.

His first love in the 1960s was motocross alongside the likes of Shane and Blaize Thomas, the latter who would become a seven-time Zimbabwe motocross champion.

Asked his most memorable game, the 53-year-old says:

“Beating Prince Edward in 1979 when we (Oriel Boys High) were just minnows.”

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