Sables crawl to finish line

HARARE - Zimbabwe rugby 15s coach Cyprian Mandenge is justified in his criticism of the Sables despite the 28-20 win over Kenya in Saturday’s Africa Cup encounter at Prince Edward School.

“When we scored first, I think the guys thought it was an easy game. A bit of relaxing. I think the Kenyans also changed their game plan,” Mandenge told reporter after the match.

“They started running everything when they saw they were fitter than us because this is just our first game together.”

The Sables, who had little time to prepare for the test, started the match at Jubilee Field like a house on fire pinning back the Simbas in their own 22 in the opening minutes.

A menacing run from flank Andrew Rose curved open the Simbas defence allowing lock Sanele Sibanda to dot down the Sables first try after 11 minutes and the predominantly Zimbabwe crowd erupted with joy.

The Sables scored their second try following a quick line out which allowed centre Riaan O’Niell to cross the whitewash.

Fly half Tichafara Makwanya converted both tries and added another three points with a penalty to give the Sables a 17-0 lead but from there on the home side switched off.  

All of a sudden, the Sables began making some sloppy handling errors and missed tackles permitting the Simbas to get back into the game.

The Sables failed to build up a lot of phases as the forwards were slow to arrive at the breakdown which disrupted continuity in their attack.

Even tactical kicks for touch where now going straight into the arms of the Simbas full back and wingers giving the visitors opportunities to launch devastating counter attacks.   

The excuses of fatigue and a lack of match fitness cannot go unchallenged since these mistakes began to show in the first half.

By half time, the Simbas had drawn level after tries from wingers Jacob Ojee, Darwin Mukidza and eighthman Joshua Chisango.

From a possession of comfort and cruise control, the Sables had almost thrown the game away and despite regaining the lead shortly after half time through another Makwanya penalty, there was tension now in the air.

To make matters worse, Sables lock Fortune Chipendo was sent to the sin bin for and from the resultant penalty, Mukidza levelled the scores at 20-20.

Every time Kenya got quick ball to their speedy backline, the Sables defence was now scrambling to defend the three point lead.

Sables scrumhalf Charles Jiji won many hearts in the crowd with his last ditch tackle on Mukidza inside the Sables 22 halfway through the second half.

Despite his small frame, Jiji wrestled the Simbas winger to the ground when the rest of his more physical teammates in the backline had failed.

Mukidza had made a clean break and if he had reached the try line, Kenya would have steam rolled past the Sables as they were now building momentum as they had a man advantage.

Mandenge and his assistant Nsikelelo “Sykes” Sibanda were restless in the technical area as fatigue began to tell on their players.

Makwanya converted another penalty to ease the home side’s nerves before Tafadzwa Chitokwindo scored the Sables’ third try in the 70th minute.

But with an eight-point difference in the score, Kenya remained in the game and pinned back the Sables for the remainder of the encounter.

Replacement flyhalf Lenience Tambwera began to find touch with his left boot to ease pressure on the Sables defence.

In the end, the Sables weathered the storm but Mandenge knows that a sterner test is in store when they host Tunisia on July 4 before travelling to Windhoek to face the World Cup bound Namibia a week later.

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