Sables eager to give solace to people back home

HARARE - Only last month they were one try away from their first World Cup in two decades.

Their captain Daniel Hondo took a lot of flak for choosing to go for posts in that 28-10 win over Kenya when an extra try would have automatically secured a direct ticket to England next year for the third biggest sporting event on earth after the Fifa World Cup and the Olympics.

It still hurts so bad.

But there may come a time – and it may well be very soon – when this sleeping giant of African rugby rise from a long-term slumber and reclaim its place among the world’s recognised rugby-playing nations.

And yesterday, Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) director of rugby Liam Middleton insisted the 22 men carrying the hopes of the nation in Siberia tomorrow will upset Russia and move one step closer to World Cup qualification.

Middleton was quick to point out that the Sables have since moved on from the heart-break of narrowly missing out on a direct ticket to England 2015, saying they are now fully focused on winning the play-offs and keep the World Cup dream alive.

In July the Sables narrowly came second to rivals Namibia in an Africa Cup contest in Madagascar which also served as World Cup qualifiers.

That meant Zimbabwe dropped down to the Repachage route.

The winner between Zimbabwe and Russia will face the winner of the other play-off pitting Hong Kong and Uruguay on home-and-away basis.

And tomorrow in the rugby-mad Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, in front of a 25 000 strong crowd, Zimbabwe – who last played in the Rugby World Cup in 1991 – will continue the fight.

Middleton, speaking to the IRB website in a recorded interview, believes the Sables’ desire for a first World Cup berth in over two decades will make them overcome.

He said World Cup qualification will change the face of rugby and sport in general for the success starved southern African country.

“We came one try away from a World Cup ticket, which would have been phenomenal for the country. Yes there was disappointment. But I can say that very quickly the focus immediately turned to Russia and that sense of resilience and positivity was back,” said Middleton.

“We have talented good players in key positions and I think we just gotta play our kind of rugby. We are quite an exciting side, we have a lot of game breakers in our team. A lot of our backs are Sevens players.”

The Sables are currently ranked seven places below Russia on the International Rugby Board rankings but Middleton remains unfazed.

“I think we have some of the fastest players in Africa. We have got some phenomenal ball players. We have a very good 10 (Guy Cronje) who plays for Golden Lions in Super Rugby,” Middleton said.

“We have a fantastic 8 (Lambert Groenewald) who plays for Golden Lions. We have some good players in key positions. We are probably quite contrast to Russia in the style we play. Russians are forward-oriented, very physical, we tend to move the ball around and play with a little bit of expanse, although we do have some control to our game.”

In a country battling economic instability and a lot of its citizens live on a dollar a day, Middleton feels triumph in Siberia and subsequent World Cup qualification will offer a form of solace.

“An event like this will change the face of Zimbabwe rugby for a decade. The impact would be phenomenal it would not only have on Zimbabwean rugby but on sport in Zimbabwe.

“The country as a whole will be affected by such an achievement, being there at an event that’s the third biggest sporting event in the world. To have this small African country with a proud rugby tradition and a huge amount of talent to be showcased there is phenomenal. It would be significant. That’s why we are determined to put ourselves in the best possible position to make it.”

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