ZIMBABWE Rugby Union (ZRU) selectors yesterday wielded the axe on several experienced players while including seven uncapped ones in their 26-member squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers starting on Saturday in Madagascar.
The team which was expected to leave the country last night, will be led by experienced centre Daniel Hondo and consists of 14 forwards and 12 backline players.
Seasoned utility backliner Gardner Nechironga was left out of the squad and there were no places for veteran loose forward Fortune Chipendu, France-based second rower Michael Passaportis as well as fly-half Tichafara Makwanya.
Uncapped players named include front rowers Farai Mudariki and Lawrence Clemson, loose forwards Graeme Lawler and Lambert Groenewald, half-back Peter Du Toit and centre Riaan O’Neill.
ZRU director of rugby Liam Middleton, who is also the union’s chief selector, said while some of the uncapped players lacked experience at international level they were certainly no novices at professional level.
“We have picked the squad based on talent. While they might lack experience with the Sables they’ve got experience in other aspects of professional or semi-professional rugby,” he said.
“I think the new capped guys come with experience, although not at international level. They have fitted into the side very well and you are going to see some very exciting players playing in their debut against Madagascar and showing that they are very capable players.”
Sables coach Brendan Dawson defended the composition of the squad saying it was the best squad he had worked with since taking over as national coach seven years ago.
“Like I have said all along, I really believe we are going to win this tournament. I have a lot of confidence in the guys we have selected. It’s probably one of the best squads I’ve been involved with since I took over in 2007 and I believe if we go out and do what we have planned and stick to what we have trained for in the past 10 days we could come back with the trophy,” Dawson said.
The Sables, who are just three wins away from their first Rugby World Cup appearance since 1991, will open their Africa Cup Group 1A tournament campaign against hosts Madagascar on Saturday. They will play favourites Namibia next Wednesday before concluding their campaign against the reigning African champions Kenya on July 6. All games will be broadcast on SuperSport 9.
The winner of the tournament will automatically qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup to be held in England while the team which finishes second will have another chance to qualify via a play-off against Russia in August.
Sables’ 26-member squad
Forwards: Farai Mudariki, Jan Ferreira, Schalke Ferreira, Lambert Groenewald (Golden Lions), Pieter Joubert, Graeme Lawler, Jacques Leitao, Mathew Mandioma, Keith Murray, Denford Mutamangira, Njabulo Ndlovu, Kevin Nqindi, Sanele Sibanda, Lawrence Clemson
Backs: Guy Cronje, Hilton Mudariki, Lenience Tambwera, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Daniel Hondo (captain), Tangai Nemadire, Stephan Hunduza, Danny Robertson, Riaan O’Neill, Gerald Sibanda, Kingsley Lang, Peter Du Toit