ZIMBABWE Rugby Union (ZRU) technical director Liam Middleton believes the Sables have what it takes to claim the remaining 2015 Rugby World Cup ticket despite the withdrawal of four key players from the 24-member touring party.
After narrowly missing out on automatic qualification to Namibia early this month, the Sables will face a tough away fixture in their opening 2015 Rugby World Cup qualification play-offs when they tackle Russia in the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk on August 2.
With the team’s hopes hinged on the one-off match, the Sables’ build-up to the crucial tie has, however, been hampered by the withdrawal of utility backs Tangai Nemadire, Sibanda and forwards Njabulo Ndlovu and Schalke Ferreira.
Nemadire and Gerald Sibanda made themselves unavailable for the Russia trip due to differences with the technical staff while Ferreira and Ndlovu would miss out due to injury.
South Africa-based backliner Shayne Makombe, Old Georgians lock Fortune Chipendu and Old Hararians eighthman Takunda Chifokoyo were on Sunday named as replacements.
Middleton, who is also the union’s convener of selectors, said although they didn’t plan to make any changes to the side he had confidence in the squad they had picked for the Russia tour.
“We didn’t plan to make any changes to the squad apart from the IRB only allowing us to pick 24 players only because it will be a one-game tour. A couple of players will be unavailable due to a number of reasons while others are injured.
“However, we have quality and depth in the squad and I feel we are in a good position,’ Middleton said.
The former Cheetahs coach said having watched their opponents’ recent competitive matches, he thinks the Sables would upset the Russians.
“I have watched the last five matches that Russia have played and I feel that we should be confident. We have a good side that will cause Russia real problems on the field,” he said.
Sables’ skipper Danny Hondo said morale was still high among the players and they had drawn a lot of positives from their matches in Madagascar.
“The boys definitely believe we can beat Russia especially after our perfomance in Madagascar.
“Local-based players have been training every day since Friday and the foreign-based players have been doing their work from their bases,” Hondo said.
The locally-based Sables players leave the country on Friday.
They will meet the South Africa-based contingent in Johannesburg while the Europe-based players will fly directly to Russia.
Middleton said they would hold camp in that country for four days to acclimatise to the Russia weather. The winner of the August 2 match will face the winner of the other play-off between Uruguay and Hong Kong in a two-legged tie.
The eventual winner will join Australia, hosts England, Wales and Fiji in Pool A of Rugby’s pinnacle tournament next year.
Forwards: Pieter Joubert, Keith Murray, Kevin Nqindi, Jan Ferreira, Graeme Lawler, Jacques Leitao, Lambert Groenewald, Lawrence Cleminson, Sanele Sibanda, Matthew Mandioma, Farai Mudariki, Fortune Chipendo, Kingsley Lang, Takunda Chifokoyo, Denford Mutamangira
Backs: Daniel Hondo (captain), Hilton Mudariki, Guy Cronje, Stephan Hunduza, Riaan O’Neill, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Peter Du Toit, Lenience Tambwera, Shayne Makombe, Danny Robertson