Zimbabwe will be looking to right the wrongs of last week’s defeat at the hands of Kenya when they meet Tunisia at Prince Edward School on Saturday in Harare at 1500hrs.
After their gritty performance in Windhoek a couple of weeks ago, the 2012 Africa Champions were widely expected to pick up their second win of the competition against Kenya in Bulawayo last Saturday, but that was not the case as Kenya’s forwards decimated the home side denying them any momentum to build upon.
With another home test in Harare, the Sables have an immediate opportunity for redemption and although it seems that they are somewhat safe from relegation, they will be eager to stave off that threat and guarantee their place in the 2018 Gold Cup competition.
There were a number of concerns on Saturday, one of them being the kick chase. In addition to being disjointed from the set piece, restarts and in open play clearances, it quickly became apparent that only a few players understood their roles in the chase. As a result, there was little coordination and certainly no alignment in the chase line. The Sables will need that to change on Saturday.
The midfield of Gavin Nyawata and Danny Capsopoulos is as watertight as you will get and denied the Kenyan backs any space to operate in, but this writer can’t help but feel that both centres, along with Stoney Chibuwe are the same sort of player and one of them needs to be paired with a ball player like Riaan O’Neill, Garth Ziegler or Takudzwa Chieza to create the balance that will unlock defences at this level.
Of those two, O’Neill is available for this test and therefore should start.
While flyhalf Tich Makwanya often looked to get his outside backs into the game by running the ball more than he has done in the previous two tests, there were times when outside backs ran out of space as soon as they got the ball due to lateral movement in the backline. Winger Taku Kumadiro on at least three occasions received the ball in the tramline with two defenders on him, a result, perhaps, of the centres not straightening their lines to fix defenders and create space on the outside.
Makwanya’s halfback partner, Hilton Mudariki continues to be a threat around the fringes in the green zone and his tactical kicking off the base is a strength for the Sables.
The loose trio had some success with rookie Connor Pritchard and his seasoned back row partner Jacques Leitão having strong games and effecting crucial turnovers that disrupted the Kenyan flow. Biselele Tshamala also carried the ball with intend and on a few occasions operated in tandem with Pritchard with one such link play producing a try from the halfway line.
Pritchard who is probably the Sables top player in the last few tests has gone back to his base in Australia and will miss the clash however a trio of Leitao, Tshamala and Njabulo Ndlovu though missing some bulk, is more than capable of doing the job.
Tunisia, who are winless, haven’t had a great tournament so far. They have been at the backend of some heavy defeats; a 100-10 drubbing at the hands of Kenya and another 54-17 defeat by Namibia, however when on song, they can be troublesome to any opposition. They certainly have something to fight for in staying in the group and being in contention for World Cup qualification next year.
The North Africans are pound for pound bigger and more imposing than the Zimbabweans and where they lack in skill they compensate in brute strength. They also love to milk extra yardage in broken play and the Sables brains trust would do well to work on the secondary layer of their defense alignment to prevent tries.
If the home side plays a structured game and turn the big Tunisians backwards with clever kicks from Mudariki and Makwanya this is likely to be a good day for the Zimbabweans.
Props: Denford Mutamangira ©,Lawrence Cleminson, Irvine Nduwa, Brandon Sweet, Kevin Nqindi, Brian Makamure, Edwin Nxumalo, David Makanda
Hookers: Tolerance Zishe, Graham Cochran, Takudzwa Bvunzawabaya, Mathew Mandioma, Royal Mwale
Second Rows: Brian Nyaude, Fortunate Chipendu, Kingsley Lang, Witness Mandizha, Antipas Kamukwindo
Backrows: Jacques Leitao, Takudzwa Mandiwanza, Njabulo Ndlovu, Biselele Tshamala, Lucky Sithole, Osborne Muhambi
Scrumhalves: Hilton Mudariki, Scotty Jones, Josh Gando
Flyhalves: Tich Makwanya, Lenience Tambwera
Centres: Gavin Nyawata, Daniel Capsopoulos, Ngoni Chibuwe, Riaan O’Neill
Outside Backs: Takudzwa Kumadiro, Tadius Dzandiwanzira, Stephan Hunduza, Tinashe Gwisai, Takudzwa Kumadiro