Sables name 7 uncapped players in WC squad

HARARE - Zimbabwe yesterday named a fairly decent 26-man squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers which begin at the weekend in Madagascar in a bold team selection which has not been without its critics.

Coach Brendan Dawson went for seven uncapped players, quite a huge gamble heading into the three tough tests against the hosts, Namibia at Kenya.

Winner of the Africa Cup contest, which doubles as the African region World Cup qualifier, will automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in England.

The Sables, who are aiming to qualify for their first World Cup in 22 years, open against Madagascar on Saturday at 2pm. The match will be broadcast live on Supersport 9.

It was the composition of the squad yesterday which stirred debate in the rugby circles, with the inclusion of several inexperienced players a major cause for concern among fans.

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of 19-year-old prop Farai Mudariki, the young brother of scrumhalf Hilton.

Mudariki has been a revelation for Old Georgians this season, but test rugby at the moment appears too big of a step up for him.

Other uncapped players in the team are the Lions pair of half-back Guy Cronje and flank Lambert Groenewald, but these two are tipped to be one of the team’s key players in Madagascar given the level of rugby they play in South Africa.

Groenewald was at one time in Sharks’ Super Rugby squad and made one appearance for the Durban franchise, while Cronje regularly features for Lions in both the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup.

Then there is also utility forward Graeme Lawler, prop Lawrence Clemenson as well as scrumhalf Peter Du Doit and fly-half Riaan O’Neill as the other uncapped players.

The biggest casualty is probably prolific wing Gardner Nechironga, the Sables’ leading try scorer of the last three years, who appears to have missed out due to poor form and competition from younger and hungrier speed merchants like Stephan Hunduza and Tafafadzwa Chitokwindo.

Experienced Tangai Nemadire, the returning Gerald Sibanda alongside the youthful Chitokwindo and Hunduza will now raise their hands up for places on the wings in Madagascar.

Experienced Old Hararians flyhalf Tichafara Makwanya was also left out if the cold. While the former Zimbabwe Under-20 skipper was unlikely to make the starting line-up ahead of favourite number 10 Lenience Tambwera, Makwanya was expected to at least make the touring party as cover.

His sounding kicking game when playing for territory and great awareness comes in handy in crucial matches.

Other casualties were France-based towering lock Michael Passaportis, the versatile forward Fortune Chipendu and loose forward Andrew Rose.

“Disappointment is always a really tough pill to swallow,” Scotland-based Rose wrote on Facebook after learning of his exclusion.

“Unfortunately, I didn't make the squad for the qualifiers but all the same I believe we can do it. Come on Zim. The game will be on Supersport 9 on Saturday at around 1330. Please support the Sables as we take on Madagascar in one of a three game qualification process.”

Convenor of selectors Liam Middleton defended the squad, saying: “We picked this squad based on talent. The new guys come with experience, not necessarily Sables experience, but they have fitted in the squad well. Most of them have been playing semi-professional and professional rugby.

“Come Saturday, we will see very exciting new caps against Madagascar, who are very capable. Our team spirit as group is going to be our main weapon.”

For the first time in years, the Sables will field two set of brothers in Jan and Schalk Ferreira alongside Hilton and Farai Mudariki.

Squad

Forwards: Farai Mudariki, Jan Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira, Pieter Joubert, Lambert Groenewald, Graeme Lawler, Jacques Leitao, Matthew Mandioma, Keith Murray, Denford Mutamangira, Njabulo Ndlovu, Kevin Nqindi, Kingsley Lang, Sanele Sibanda, Lawrence Clemenson.

Backs: Daniel Hondo (capt), Danny Robertson, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Stephan Hunduza, Peter Du Toit, Hilton Mudariki, Guy Cronje, Tangai Nemadire, Riaan O’Neill, Lenience Tambwera, Gerald Sibanda.

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