June and November are exciting periods in the rugby calendar – it’s international test period. I’m not big on club rugby but I am slowly picking up on the level of rugby. And for the first time, for as long as I can remember, I witnessed an international test in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has a history of rugby which dates back to the 1890s and since then, many great rugby playing nations have graced the fields in Zimbabwe. From the All Blacks to Russia, Zimbabwe has played a lot of rugby on its home turf and it won’t be ending any time soon. The home of rugby, Hartsfield Ground in Bulawayo, saw the home nation beat the All Blacks 10-8 in 1949 #MindBlown.
However, it does suck that the sport isn’t more professional. There have been outstanding talents leaving Zimbabwe and the names I can remember include Gary Teichmann, David Pocock and the legendary Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, to name a few. They were born in Zimbabwe but they felt the need to play for another country. Some did stick it out and develop the sport as much as they could. Even my former O Level biology teacher represented The Sables in his time.
Nonetheless, Zimbabwe is aiming to make the world cup in Japan for the first time since 1991. A long wait but there are strides being made to bring the dream into reality. Former Springboks coach, Peter de Villiers, is at the helm of the team and he seems more than eager to restore his international status and take a team to the grand stage.
However, Zimbabwe has to play in the Africa Gold Cup against Morocco, Kenya, Tunisia, Namibia and Uganda. The prize – a ticket to Japan! Making it is the target because the group their set to be in, has the revived Springboks and the 3 time world champs in the ABs. That’s the dream, to line up against the world’s best but the reality, is winning the continental competition.
On Saturday 16 June, I watched the first Sables match in Harare. I always wondered how I had never watched a match in Zimbabwe. I’ve watched cricket, heard the fans at the soccer but never seen, heard or smelt Zimbabwe rugby. The team has actually won the Africa Gold Cup before and that was in 2012 so they can be a competitive team.
Zimbabwe played Morocco in the Africa Gold Cup opener at lunch. I didn’t expect people to be interested since kickoff was at lunch but alas, it was at capacity at the nearly revamped Machinery Exchange Rugby Stadium at Harare Sports Club. I searched the internet to find a final attendance figure and apparently it was above ten thousand. Wow! Credit to Zimbabweans for supporting their rugby team.
The Sables are under new management, and have sponsors backing them and supporting the development of the team. This is the first time I’ve heard more about rugby than any other sport (somewhat considering the soccer team are 6 time COSAFA Cup champions – a record). Makes you wonder how there isn’t more investment into sport in Zimbabwe but that’s another story for another government. The hype was there, the excitement was at peak and all roads led to the Machinery Exchange Rugby Stadium.
People turned up in their thousands dressed in green and white, carrying their flags and waving them with a passion like I had never seen before. It was beautiful to see, to be a part of. A great sense of pride filled the stadium on that day. Something I feel the country hasn’t felt in a while. I didn’t watch the cricket in March/April which I feel criminal for but if the TV was anything to go by, it was awesome. But I was there in spirit!
Saturday was perfect for a game of rugby. Having not watched a great game of rugby in years I got a soft spot for local rugby. There were people of all ages at the stadium, with the smallest patch of Moroccan fans that I’m sure disappeared when the game kicked off only to resurface when the final whistle went. It was a good game! Full of nerves and sketchy decision making. Outstanding tries were scored, memorable plays were made and mistakes were abundant but again – first game nerves plagued the players.
A Zimbabwean got the ball stripped from his hands by the #14 which led to a try, whilst a Moroccan thought the game was over and kicked the ball out on his 22 only to award Zimbabwe a line out in the final play. It really was a nerve wrecking! Unfortunately the last kick of the game sailed wide of the posts which would have given Zimbabwe the win but alas, both teams shared the points only to the dismay of the fans.
I enjoyed the experience and I sense that a lot of the fans did. Unfortunately there wasn’t a win however the country is very hopeful. And it’s a fantastic thing! People should never feel there isn’t anything to do in Harare. There is plenty! And I’m inviting you to them all.
Next home game is in August against Namibia, the current champions, in Bulawayo. I sense a road trip coming!