Tunisia picked up their first win of the competition on Saturday when they beat a struggling Zimbabwe Sables side 31 – 23 at Prince Edward School, Harare.
Just a few weeks ago, Zimbabwe seemed to be headed towards a memorable season after picking up a win against plucky Senegal as well as running champions Namibia close in Windhoek a couple of weeks later. But a crashing defeat to Kenya and Saturday’s defeat to a (previously) winless Tunisia has put Cyprian Mandenge’s Sables’ season in disarray.
On a chilly afternoon in Harare, the Sables started brightly with some beautiful running from their athletic forwards and quick backs and were unlucky not to score a try in the first 2 minutes of the game, however the referee awarded them a penalty which flyhalf Tich Makwanya converted to take a 3 – 0 lead.
What followed was Tunisia playing all the rugby and dominating possession. Their forwards were bullying Zimbabwe in the scrums and controlling the contact point which made it difficult for the Sables to string up any phases.
The constant pressure led to penalties being awarded to Tunisia and their outside centre Chamseddine Khalifa who was in fine form, knocked over 3 goals one of which, a long range 45 metre goal to put his side 9 – 3 ahead.
On the 32nd minute mark inform scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki fortuitously scored for the home side after an error from the Tunisians.
Zimbabwe had had a rare visit to Tunisia’s 22 via a penalty which Makwanya kicked into touch. From the lineout, they played the ball down the line but a speculative pass from Makwanya handed the possession back to the visitors who knocked on and the ever present Mudariki was there to pounce on the mistake and score his second try in as many weeks.
Makwanya added the extras to put Zimbabwe back in the lead at 10 – 9
Zimbabwe could not gather the restart and Tunisia struck back immediately and scored after a few phases.
Fullback Issam Werhani showed real leg and upper body power to go over the top of 3 would be Zimbabwe tacklers and score in corner.
Khalifa added the extras for a score of 16-10
Makwanya added three more points at the stroke of halftime to surprisingly leave Zimbabwe within 3 points at halftime despite having only had 39% possession in the first half.
The 2nd half started off with Tunisia having the lion’s share of possession again. Khalifa added another penalty from a Zimbabwe infringement to extend the lead to 19 – 13.
Makwanya who’s renowned for percentage play, spotted Werhani out of position and kicked a beautiful kick deep inside Tunisia’s half. With pressure from the chasers on, Werhani, who was scrambling to cover had no choice but to step out of touch, gifting the Sables a lineout in a very good field position.
From the lineout Zimbabwe played it tight for a few phases forcing the Tunisians to commit more numbers to the breakdown. This created space out wide, where Zimbabwe shipped the ball and found towering second row, Kingsley Lang, who dove for an unconverted try, putting Zimbabwe within 1 point at 19-18.
As had been the case in the first half, Tunisia immediately responded with a try of their own.
Zimbabwe again failed to deal with the restart and Tunisia flyhalf Nejemeddine Khalifa went on a mazy run that saw him beat a couple of defenders before offloading to winger Chadi Jabri who scored in the corner.
Chamseddine Khalifa failed with the extras to leave the scores at 24 – 18
The Sables’ struggles with restarts continued; This time they failed to put enough pressure to regather their own, and the visitors ran the ball back. After a few phases, Jabri carved the Zimbabwean defence before scoring a well worked try, his second of the afternoon.
Khalifa converted to stretch the lead to 31 – 18.
With less than a quarter of the game left Zimbabwe got a lineout deep in Tunisia’s territory. The Sables took the ball down for a maul and replacement prop Irvine Nduwa went through the middle of the maul to score an unconverted try.
The referee blew fulltime, signalling a very important victory which will boost the Tunisians hopes of surviving the group ahead of their final game against last placed Senegal next weekend.
Zimbabwe have a date with Uganda in Kampala next week and they will be hoping they can close out the competition with a victory. For now it’s back to the drawing board for the Southern Africans.
Denford Mutamangira ©, 2.Tolerance Zishe 3.Lawrence Cleminson, 4.Kingsley Lang, 5. Fortunate Chipendu, 6.Jacques Leitao, 7.Biselele Tshamala, 8.Njabulo Ndlovu, 9.Hilton Mudariki, 10.Tichafara Makwanya, 11.Stephan Hunduza, 12.Stone Chibuwe, 13.Daniel Capsopoulos, 14.Takudzwa Kumadiro, 15.Tadius Dzandiwanzira
Replacements: 16.Royal Mwale, 17.Irvine Nduwa, 18.Brandon Sweet, 19.Antipas Kamukwindo, 20.Takudzwa Mandiwanza, 21.Scotty Jones, 22.Gavin Nyawata, 23.Tinashe Gwisai
Achref Ben Hamouda 2.Salen Khanfous 3.Chahir Aouadi, 4.Mohamed Ben Hmida, 5. Mohamed Mliss, 6.Khaled Zegdene, 7.Hamdi Mechri, 8. Najid Zemzem, 9.Mohamed Achref Dhif, 10. Nejemeddine Khalifa, 11.Abbes Kherfani, 12.Haithem Chelly, 13. Chamseddine Khalifa, 14. Chadi Jabri, 15. Issam Werhani
Replacements: 16.Hamza Beji, 17.Nasser-Dine Letaif, 18.Yahya Graa, 19.Hossem Khalfi, 20.Dhia Ben Dhiab, 21.Hamza Mbarki, 22.Seifeddine Ben Abderrahmen