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Namibia pull a rabbit from ...

Namibia pull a rabbit from the hat to stay top

Namibia narrowly edged Zimbabwe 31-26 in a thrilling Africa Gold Cup clash on a wintry Saturday evening, at Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek.

With the Sables looking set to break their Namibian jinx, outside back Johann Tromp, rose from the bench to rescue the hosts and defending three time champions from an embarrassing defeat to their central African rivals. He scored two of Namibia’s four second half tries at the death as both sides seemed to be running out of puff.

Given the brutality and unrelenting intensity of the clash, one may easily forgive the players on both sides for getting a little breathless towards the end, but that is where the crucial errors were made on both sides.

The difference, as Zimbabwe’s Head Coach Cyprian Mandenge ruefully noted in a post match interview with Rugby Afrique’s broadcast partner, Kwese Sports, was that Namibia were more clinical in capitalising on said mistakes and turning them into tries.

And it had all begun so well….

The Zimbabwe Sables had taken a commanding 20 – 7 lead into the changing sheds at half time with two tries from halfback Hilton Mudariki and the electric winger Taku Kumandiro as well as conversions from veteran flyhalf Tich Makwanya.

The hosts, in truth, looked overwhelmed by the intensity the visitors were exhibiting at the set piece and in the collisions. Namibia simply did not seem prepared for the challenge laid down by the Sables whose captain Denford Mutamangira said, “played like (they) wanted it”.  Zimbabwe fronted up at the scrum, contested the kick restarts and were a nuisance at the lineouts.

At the collisions, the Sables flooded the ruck and ensured the Namibians were unable to get quick ball off the base. In this area, the loose trio of young Connor Pritchard and the experienced Jacques Leitao reigned supreme. They were able to make use of sound post tackle technique and low centre of mass to win the race over the ball and slow the recycle of the ball. Zimbabwe also made good use of the chop tackle to ensure the Namibians would not be able to get their lethal offloading game going.

Ironically, this strength from the first half proved to be the crucial difference in the second half. The Sables, having established the lead and with forty to play, continued to flood the tackle area and this left too many players on the floor and out of their defensive alignment. This meant that the Sables were exposed whenever the Namibians were able to get the ball out of the ruck and out into the wide areas.

The Namibians seemed to have noted at halftime how narrow the Sables’ defensive alignment was forcing the Sables defence to scramble and make last ditch tackles out wide.

This seemed to drain more energy out of the Zimbabweans as the shadows grew long and the clock wound down.

An example of this is when Namibian winger Gino Wilson scored from a long pass out to the left when a backline move off the scrum tied up three Sables defenders in the middle and left two Namibians unattended out wide. Centre Darryl de la Harpe took advantage of a fatigued attempt at a tackle from an otherwise impressive Makwanya that also capped a moment of horror for the visitors’ scrumhalf Mudariki.

With four minutes to go Namibia would strike again. A turnover from a Sables tapped penalty deep in the Namibian half saw the ball go wide again to Tromp, who put a long punt ahead and won a footrace against lock Fortune Chipendu and Kumandiro to score what turned out to be the winning try.

But there was to be more drama…

The Sables themselves had their moments when they won a lineout after the Namibian flyhalf Eugene Jantjies shanked a clearance for the ball to go out on the full. Zimbabwe found the sensational Pritchard, who charged over the line, only to get turned over by three defenders and as the ball popped out, time seemed to freeze, Chipendu diving over the ball, only to knock it on in the act of grounding it.

And that was that. Namibia kept their record of wins over Zimbabwe and with that maintaining their lead at the top of the Rugby Afrique Gold Cup … but only just.

Namibia travel to Kampala for a tricky tie against Uganda while Zimbabwe are at home for the first time this season against Kenya in Bulawayo.

Credit : Kyros Sports