Zimbabwe will have to give a sterling performance when they face hot-favourites Kenya in Antananarivo, Madagascar this afternoon as they fight to win the 2014 Africa Cup and book an automatic berth at the rugby World Cup in England next year.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
Victory for either team in the potentially mouth-watering top of the table clash would see a third rugby World Cup appearance for the Sables or a maiden qualification for the Kenyan Lions.
A bonus point win for Brendon Dawson’s charges will see the team join defending champions New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia in Pool C of the ultimate rugby 15s tournament.
The Sables’ quest got off to a flying start last weekend with a 57-22 triumph over the hosts Madagascar but the team let slip a healthy 17-10 half-time lead to stumble 24-20 to pre-tournament favourites Namibia last Wednesday.
Worrying for the Sables is the inconsistency of their play in the tournament, as they have played in patches, sometimes solid and intelligent going forward and other times disjointed and untidy.
Against the Namibians, the Daniel Hondo-captained side fizzled out in the second-half after a blistering first half showing, raising concerns over the fitness level of the team.
In today’s make or break contest, Zimbabwe has no room for error and will be hoping loose forward Jacques Leitao replicates the form that saw him crush over the whitewash four times in the win against Madagascar.
Also crucial in the match will be the performances of Lambert Groenewald who has exhibited excellent ball-carrying ability, as well as fly-half Guy Cronje, impressive scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki and inside centre Riaan Orneill.
In simple terms, the Sables have to play the game of their lives even in the absence of lock Jan Ferreira and versatile loose forward Njabulo Ndlovu. Both players have been ruled out of today’s swim or sink tie due to injuries.
The task is much easier for Kenya, who have won both their matches so far as they only need to avoid defeat against the Sables to qualify for the World Cup.
Head coach Jerome Paarwater deserves major credit for his role in improving Kenya too, having originally joined on a volunteer basis before being granted a full-time position in 2013.
Kenya lead the group with 10 points while Zimbabwe lie second with six and Namibia with five and hosts Madagascar with no points.
The team that finishes second will take the longer and much difficult route to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, taking on Russia in Siberia with the winner of that game going to the second round where they will take on the winner between Hong Kong and Uruguay.