THE Sables began their Africa Cup title defence on a winning note after brushing aside a robust challenge from hosts Madagascar to convincingly win their CAR Africa Cup Division 1A Championship semi-final match in front of a partisan sellout crowd of 40 000 in Antananarivo yesterday.
Madagascar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . (18) 18
Zimbabwe. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10) 38
Yesterday’s win ensured the Sables’ hopes of qualifying for the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup in England remained on course as the defending champions booked a berth in the final on Sunday against Kenya.
Kenya, who travelled to this tournament with some of their Sevens stars, booked a place to the final in emphatic fashion after their 52-11 demolition job of their neighbours Uganda in another semi-final match at the same venue.
By beating Madagascar, Zimbabwe also retained their Division 1A status ahead of next year’s championships, which will serve as the final round of African qualifying for the IRB 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Zimbabwe recovered after a slow start in which they lost prop Tapiwa Mangezi to a knee injury as early as the second minute.
At one time they were trailing 18-3, with Lenience Tambwera’s penalty their only points on the scoreboard, before captain Jacques Leitao came through with a vital converted try just before halftime.
Centre Garth Ziegler, hooker Keith Murray and towering replacement lock Sanele Sibanda notched a try apiece in the second half to add to two more penalties and conversions by Tambwera while fly-half Boyd Rous also chipped in with a penalty.
In a telephone interview with our sister paper NewsDay Sport yesterday, skipper Leitao said he was proud of his teammates for their brave performance.
“It was a very tough match, but I’m very happy for the boys for their fighting spirit. We had a difficult start and their crowd was solidly behind them, but we kept our shape and kept working hard until we were rewarded.”
“We managed to score a try just before half-time to make it 10-18 and after the break we scored three more tries in addition to three penalties and a drop goal by (Boyd) Rouse.”
On the next match against Kenya, Leitao said: “We will have a look at the video footage of their match and try to see some of their weak areas that we need to exploit and hopefully we will do well and manage to defend our title.”
The Sables win completed a remarkable day for local rugby after their junior side had earlier thrashed Limpopo Blue Bulls 5-43 in their Craven Week encounter in Polokwane, SA.
The Sables, who at one time were trailing the hosts 18-3 showed tremendous resilience and fighting spirit to overcome the player unrest by some of the senior players during the build-up to the match.
A player boycott led by some senior players during the team’s camp and the suspension of some senior players that followed, saw the technical team being left with no option but to travel with a severely depleted squad.
The Sables also travelled to Madagascar without their assistant coach Cyprian Mandenge due to financial constraints.
The Brendan Dawson-coached side, however, rose above the challenges to register a hard-fought victory which leaves them on course to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1991.
There was, however, a sour end to the Sables victory as their celebrations were overshadowed by some unsporting behaviour by the hosts after reports that Simba Mandiona was rushed to the hospital soon after the game with a serious eye injury after he was attacked by a Malagasy player.
There were also reports that the Madagascar fans threw missiles onto the pitch soon after the final whistle.
Sables’ Starting XV: 15 L Tambwera, 14 T Chitokwindo, 13 G Ziegler, 12, S Makombe, 11 S Hunduza 10, B Rous, 9 P Machisa, 8 N Ndlovu, 7 A Rose, 6 J Leitao (Captain), 5 S Bwanya, 4 Jan Ferreira, 3 T Mangezi, 2 K Murray, 1, P Joubert
Replacements: Daniel Nhepera, Jakov Jakov, Simbarashe Mandioma, Sanele Sibanda, Martin Wolfenden, Biselele Tshamala, Kilvan Magunje, Craig Elcombe, Kudakwashe Chiwanza