Sables in bright start

HARARE - The Zimbabwe national rugby team put one foot forward in their quest to earn a 2015 World Cup berth after a walloping the hosts Madagascar 22-57 in this coastal city of Antananarivo on Saturday.

The Sables outweighed and outmuscled the hosts at the breakdown and scrum time, duly racing to a 22-0 lead inside the opening minutes of the first half.

Eighth-man Lambert Groenewald was the first to put points on the board for the Sables after powerful scrimmaging had seen Zimbabwe’s front eight ran over Madagascar on their own ball.

Fly-half Guy Cronje, who was earning his first cap for the Sables, had a decent kicking game and soon slotted home a penalty to extend Zimbabwe’s lead.

The points kept on piling through vice-captain Jacques Leitao, who would eventually end the game with five tries to his name.

Centre Riaan O’Neill positioned in midfield alongside captain Daniel Hondo lived above expectation as he carried the ball beyond the advantage line on numerous occasions.

Punching above his weight in an experimental centre pairing, O’Neill was rewarded for his incisive running diving over for Zimbabwe’s second try of the game.

However, half way into the first half, Zimbabwe begun to lose structure and discipline, allowing the hosts to get back into the game with two unanswered tries.

Perhaps it was the lack of game-time against meaningful opponents in the build up to the qualifiers that was beginning to tell on the Sables, who were playing their first competitive game of the year.

Loose tackling and poor handling characterised the Sables performance in the later stages of the first half as Madagascar pinned the Sables in their own half.

Zimbabwe’s defensive structure also suffered a huge blow when Hondo was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle midway through the first half. 

Madagascar were able to breach the Sables defence with some elusive running on the first phase ball which must have left Zimbabwe coach Brendan Dawson seething with anger. 

When the half time whistle finally arrived to the relief of the Zimbabweans, the hosts had completely turned around the match as they were trailing by only seven points. 

The Zimbabwe technical team probably had a candid talk with the players at the halftime break as the Sables returned for the second half determined.

Order was restored to the Sables defensive line with well-timed tackles and some better ball handling.

The Sables quickly pulled away at the start of the second 40 minutes with tries from Leitao, replacement lock Schalk Ferreira and wing Stephen Hunduza.

Front rower Farai Mudariki and good kicking from Cronje opened the flood gates before Leitao sealed the win with a try after a 50 metre maul.

Dawson will take a lot of pride in the result but will know his side needs to work a lot on their defence ahead of their next match against Namibia on Wednesday.

Namibian earlier lost 29-22 to Kenya.

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