Four uncapped players for Sables opener

HARARE - Zimbabwe have named four debutants in the starting line-up for today’s World Cup qualification tournament opener against hosts Madagascar in Antananarivo.

The match will be broadcast live on Supersport 9 at 2pm.

Lions half-back Gut Cronje starts in the number 10 jersey on debut while 20-year-old Sharks youth star Riaan O’Neill gets the nod at 12 to partner skipper Daniel Hondo in midfield.

The talented versatile back Danny Robertson, who was expected to slot in at centre, has been overlooked for the opening match.

The other two debutants are in the forwards, where loosies Graeme Lawler (flank) and eighthman Lambert Groenewald team up in the back row with the experienced vice-captain Jacques Leitao.

The Sables technical staff has gone for strong scrimmages, looking for set-piece dominance especially at scrum time.

A structured game is an approach that can hurt the Indian Ocean islanders, who tend to struggle at set-pieces. 

Upfront, Kevin Nqindi has been given the tight-head responsibilities and will prop with hooker Keith Murray and loose-head Denford Mutamangira.

In the second row, towering lock Sanele Sibanda has been preferred ahead of Schalk Ferreira. He will partner Schalk’s brother, Jan. Sibanda is not only a light option,  but has a strong work ethic at cleaning rucks, which could be essential at securing our own ball.

In the loose trio, Leitao will lead a promising back row comprising ex-Zimbabwe Under-20 forward Lawler and one-time Super Rugby trialist Groenewald.

At half back, the Sables have put faith in Hilton Mudariki, who has been in inspired form and is very sharp at reading the game. Cronje had been handed his first sables cap and will start in the number 10 jersey.

It is the experimental centre pairing that will be the major cause for concern for Zimbabwe, a department where young O’Neill will partner the veteran Hondo.

In the back three, the diminutive Stephan Hunduza will start at left wing, with Tafadzwa Chitokwindo on the right.  The experienced Tangai Nemadire will be the last line of defence and will start at fullback.

Coach Brendan Dawson and his backroom staff will be hoping that Nemadire is his usual deadly on the counter. His silky skills will be needed against a fast Madagascar team.

The Sables are aiming to qualify for their first Rugby World Cup in 22 years, which will complete a hat-trick of appearances after taking part in the 1987 and 1991 editions.

Starting: 15. Tangai Nemadire, 14. Tafadzwa Chitokwindo 13. Daniel Hondo (capt), 12. Riaan O’Neill, 11. Stephan Hunduza, 10. Guy Cronje, 9. Hilton Mudariki 8. Lambert Groenewald, 7. Jacques Leitao, 6. Graeme Lawler, 5. Jan Ferreira, 4. Sanele Sibanda, 3. Kevin Nqindi, 2. Keith Murray, 1. Denford Mutamangira.

Subs: 16. Matthew Mandioma, 17. Pieter Joubert, 18. Kingsley Lang, 19. Njabulo Ndlovu, 20. Peter Du Toit, 21. Danny Robertson, 22. Gerald Sibanda, 23. Lenience Tambwera, 24. Farai Mudariki, 25. Lawrence Clemenson, 26 Schalk Ferreira.

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