I feel at peace – Middleton

HARARE - New Canada Rugby Sevens head coach Liam Middleton feels he leaves Zimbabwe rugby in a better state and it will be unfair to apportion the country’s shortcomings squarely on his shoulders.

Middleton feels he gave “more than my all” to local rugby after returning to take up the role of Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) Technical Director in October 2013 after a stint in the UK.

Prior to that, Middleton, who the Bristol Rugby Club Academy manager, was in charge of the Zimbabwe Rugby Sevens side, the Cheetahs from 2004 to 2010.  

Middleton was appointed head coach of the Canada Sevens men’s side ahead of the start of the HSBC Sevens World Series 2014/15.

The 37-year-old takes up the Canada role having made both enemies and friends in Zimbabwe rugby circles but feels the players are the people who matter the most and he has had their backing throughout his tenure.

“I gave my all to the team as a player as a coach,” Middleton told the Daily News on Sunday.

“I have had to shrug off a lot of challenges in my time with Zimbabwe rugby. In 2008, 2009, 2010 we were in some real difficulties as a country but we put on some good performances none the less.”

During his stint with the Cheetahs, Zimbabwe won several Shield and Bowl finals on the IRB World Sevens Series circuit.

Most notably Middleton led the Cheetahs to the 2009 Rugby World Cup 7s in Dubai where they won an impressive four out of their six games, culminating in a Bowl Final victory against Ireland.

His critics, however, blame Zimbabwe’s failure to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup on Middleton’s decision to go for posts when Zimbabwe needed a try against Kenya to seal qualification.

“I think it’s important how I view that criticism,” he said. “The criticism comes from a small number of people in the rugby community they are part of the people who seat on their computers and write want they want without really doing anything positive to take rugby to the next level.

“But if I look at it objectively they are a number of things we did wrong it should not have come down to that last moment. We should have beaten Namibia, for me that’s where we lost it.

“For me the people who really matter are the players and the union, I feel I have their support.

“There are the people who wanted me to leave Zimbabwe rugby but now when I am leaving they are saying why is he leaving?

Middleton added: “The last year hasn’t been easy. I have had a lot of criticism but I feel I leave the union in a positive place I put in some structures that can go far in terms of helping us to qualify for the next World Cup.

“Eight months ago when I was given the post those structures were not in place to win a ticket next year’s world Cup  but I feel I have put some structures so that we do well in the next four years.”

The Zimbabwe-born RFU level four coach’s role as Canada Sevens men’s coach is subject to Canadian Immigration requirements being met.

The former Cheetahs coach says his decision to leave the ZRU and join Canada was driven by a zeal to enhance his career.

“It’s an exciting new challenge for me and my family to go and leave in Canada. It’s a professional decision a chance for me to be on the World Sevens Circuit, I will also double as the XVs assistant coach so I will also be at the (2015) Rugby World Cup, so it’s a career decision,” he said.

“I feel a little sad to leave Zimbabwe. It’s my home, my country I feel I have made a significant contribution in Zimbabwe over the last 10 years.

“I would like some continuity for the things we have put in place for the national team as well as the Old Mutual development program.

“I would like to see the National Rugby League become competitive. At the moment sponsors have lost trust in the leaders of the NRL but it starts with us having a club committee with transparency and accountability.”

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