HONG KONG – The last time Zimbabwe were in the international limelight was at the 15-a-side World Cup in 1991.
More than two decades have passed and the country is keen to get back on the world stage, believing this weekend will offer them the best chance by winning the core-team spot in the 12-team qualification tournament.
“We have a one-in-four chance of being successful,” said Zimbabwe coach Liam Middleton, who picks Hong Kong, Russia and Japan as the main contenders for the solitary berth.
We are realistically looking at going into the regional qualifier and that’s where our focus is
“And if we achieve our goal, it will be the most significant moment in Zimbabwe rugby since we played in that World Cup.”
Zimbabwe was the first African nation to compete at the World Cup owing to the apartheid-linked exclusion of South Africa.
Since the return of the Springboks into the international fold, life has become harder.
“The main thing is the exposure for the game in Zimbabwe,” Middleton said.
“Rugby is actually a popular sport, but I think the exposure to the international game would just further ignite the interest and add to the game’s rapid growth.”
Zimbabwe won both their pool games on Friday, thumping Barbados 49-4 and then edging Chile 19-14.
With the 2016 Olympics approaching, the pressure is greater.
If South Africa finish in the top four in next season’s World Series they will gain automatic qualification for Rio.
This will mean the rest of Africa will then have to fight it out through the regional qualifiers and Zimbabwe will face stiff competition mainly from core team Kenya.
If Zimbabwe fail to win through the regional qualifier, they have one more chance through the world qualifiers providing they finish in the top three in the region.
“We are realistically looking at going into the regional qualifier and that’s where our focus is going to be, as well as the world qualifiers.
“To do well, we need to play in more tournaments, so to go from two tournaments per year to nine or 10 [World Series] is only going to improve us.”
Six of their squad will be playing for the first time at the Hong Kong Sevens. Zimbabwe first played here in 2008.
Zimbabwe and Tunisia qualified from Africa for this weekend’s qualifiers.
– South China Morning Post