Sables' World Cup dream shattered

HARARE - Zimbabwe's quest to qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup came to a screeching halt yesterday after the agonising 23-15 defeat to Russia in Siberia.

The Sables, who were hoping to reach their first Rugby World Cup since 1991, fell behind early and had to chase the game from the onset.

Although Brendan Dawson men had their chances they were fortunate not to concede more against a Russian side that wasted numerous try scoring chances.

Zimbabwe will now have to turn focus to Japan 2019 whilst the Bears will face the winner between Uruguay and Hong Kong in the final qualifier.

Russia will be bidding to reach a second consecutive tournament and earn the right to join hosts England, Australia, Wales and Fiji in Pool A at RWC 2015.

Yesterday’s defeat prompted a wave of commiserations of what could have been for a Sables team that came so close yet remained so far.

Zimbabwe-born Australian rugby star David Pocock was saddened by the loss but hopes the Sables will turn their energies to qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

“Tough loss for @zimbabwerugby. #RWC2015 dream over but some great play and hopefully the start of journey to qualify for #RWC2019,” the Wallabies captain tweeted.

Even yesterday’s opponents, the Russian Rugby Union (RRU) appreciated the competition they got from the Sables.

“Huge thanks to @zimbabwerugby for the hard game. #RUS now 3-2 ahead in head-to-head. Hope it's not 1/4 century until next meeting this time!” the posted on Twitter after the match.

As expected the Russia Bears begun yesterday’s Repechage semi-final on the front foot with a third minute penalty conversion by fly half Yuri Kushnarev before Igor Klyuchnikov's early try set them on course.

At that stage, the Sables were losing their own line out ball and struggling at contact area.

Backed by a sizeable crowd, Russia soon extended their lead through wing Denis Simplikevich’s five pointers.

Moments later, fly half Kushranev took the Bears lead to 13 points with a converted penalty.

The African side had a chance to reduce the arrears in the 27th minute but fly half Guy Cronje missed a penalty opportunity.

They would not be denied two minutes later as eighthman Lambert Groenewald dotted underneath the posts with Cronje converting the extras.

The Golden Lions fly half again had a chance for a three pointer but was not up to the task.

Needing a feisty effort to overturn a 13-7 first half deficit Zimbabwe returned from the break with Cronje’s converting a penalty to leave the game delicately poised at 10-13 to Russia.

However, eighthman Victor Gresev ensured the Russian Bears remain in control after running clear and side stepping the last defender to touch down.

Replacement LenienceTambwera could have given Zimbabwe renewed hope but his penalty hit the post and then rebounded off his chasing team-mate's knee to safety.

The penalty had come to being after referee Nigel Owens sent Russian prop Andrei Igretsov to the sin-bin just before the hour mark.

Despite the man down, Russia held firm before increasing their lead with another Kushnarev penalty with six minutes to go.

Zimbabwe, though, battled to the end and were rewarded when wing Tafadzwa Chitokwindo received the ball deep in his own half and raced through the defence to touch down.

Cronje could not add the extra points with his boot and moments later referee Nigel Owens blew the final whistle to condemn the Sables.

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