Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
WHEN Sierra Leone made a last minute withdrawal from the inaugural edition of the Kwese Sports Victoria Falls Sevens rugby tournament, organisers had no option but to tweak the fixtures.
The top ranked sides in the competition, Zimbabwe and Namibia, who had initially been drawn in Group A, were put in separate pools.
The move didn’t go well with Namibian coach Jurie Booysen, who reportedly remarked that the teams at the tournament were not up to their standard.
Even on Saturday morning, the Namibians insisted that they wanted to play against the Cheetahs in their opening fixture instead of Botswana.
What made the Namibians think they are better than other teams at the tournament was that they finished second to Uganda at last year’s Africa Cup where Zimbabwe settled for a disappointing fifth spot.
Namibia and Uganda won the right to head to next month’s World Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong, a tournament which Zimbabwe have taken part in since 2012.
Despite their belief that they were miles ahead of other teams at the inaugural tournament, Namibia were stretched to the limit by Zimbabwe’s second string side the Goshawks, with the Namibians eventually prevailing 12-7.
Namibia also struggled in the semi-finals against the vastly improved Zambians who led 19-7 at halftime, but could not even take advantage when their opponents had been temporarily reduced to five men.
Namibia fought back hard in the second half to win the match 21-19 to book a place in the final.
On the other hand, the Cheetahs were never troubled on their way to the final, scoring 142 points without conceding any and sealed a place in the final with a 24-0 win over the Goshawks.
Namibia had proved to be more physical and Zimbabwe had to ensure they avoided contact, while at the same time retaining ball possession.
Takudzwa Chieza, Stephan Hunduza, Gardner Nechironga and Nelson Madida scored a try each for the Cheetahs, with skipper Hilton Mudariki weighing in with two conversions.
Namibian captain Nandivatu Karuuombe scored the only try for his side which was converted by Jandre du Toit in what was the only time the Zimbabwe defence had been breached.
The Namibians, who came to the tournament thinking they would have an easy walk in the park, were certainly silenced after being pushed hard by the Goshawks and Zambia before being soundly beaten by the Cheetahs in the final.
That they lost to a Cheetahs’ side missing a number of regular players such as Biselele Tshamala, Riaan O’Neill, Njabulo Ndlovu, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo and Shayne Makombe shows that Zimbabwe are better than the Namibians in the shorter version of the game.
With the Cheetahs not having any confirmed fixtures until the Africa Cup in November, Mudariki has called for a lot of hard work for the team as they prepare to prove that they still belong among the best in the world.
“We will keep working hard and training hard. The boys are really up for it, we want to show everyone and the world where we deserve to be. We know that we should be in Hong Kong, but it’s all a process, so we are just going to work until the Africa Cup. Hopefully we’ll have a few tournaments in between, we are looking forward to that,” said Mudariki.
He said the tournament was well organised and expressed his gratitude to the people of Victoria Falls for coming out in their numbers to support the event.
“First time ever out here, I thought it was an absolutely well run tournament. The people of Vic Falls came out to support us today in the final, which is absolutely amazing for us. It’s always great to play in front of a home crowd so I just want to thank the people of Vic Falls for coming to support the Cheetahs,’’ Mudariki said.
Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba said they were looking at playing in three tournaments prior to the Africa Cup in November.
These include a competition in Netherlands, the Safari Sevens in Kenya and Stellenbosch tournament, which usually takes place two weeks before the Africa Cup.
Besides these, Nyamutsamba also wants training camps in between to get his core team together for the Africa Cup, which also serves as a qualifier for the 2018 Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco, United States of America.
From the new players fielded by Nyamutsamba at the weekend, Madida and Chieza were outstanding. Madida, picked at hooker, scored five tries in the tournament and it would be hard for him to be ignored even when regulars make a return to the team.