BY MICHAEL KARIATI
THERE is good news coming from the sport of rugby that the Zimbabwe Under 20 side has qualified for the 2023 World Rugby Under-20 Trophy and the Cheetahs have also qualified for the 2022 World Cup.
There are chances too that the senior team the Sables could also qualify for the 2023 World Cup to be staged in France after last making the trip to the global showpiece in 1991.
The Sables only need to beat Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup and win the other two games which will come thereafter to make that long-cherished journey.
No team has home advantage in this Africa Cup which is also serving as the qualifier for the World Cup since the tournament is being held in France in Europe.
What is refreshing is that even if Zimbabwe fails to qualify for the 2023 World Cup there seems to be light flickering at the end of the tunnel.
In four years after the 2023 World Cup, the Under 20 boys would have matured into men and ready to reclaim Zimbabwe’s old position as the best rugby team in Africa.
Once the most dominant force in African rugby, Zimbabwe has been overtaken by the likes of neighbours Namibia, and desperately need a return to the World Cup.
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The Sables who represented Africa at the 1987 World Cup were last at the global gathering in 1991 and were followed later by the Ivory Coast in 1995 before Namibia took over the show.
According to the latest world rankings, Zimbabwe are third in Africa behind South Africa and Namibia. South Africa, however, do not compete in Africa because of their high standing in world rugby.
In fact, the Springboks do not play in the Africa World Cup qualifiers as they are accorded automatic qualification to the world rugby extravaganza which means on paper Zimbabwe are second in Africa.
However, the developments taking place on the ground in Zimbabwe are pointing for even greater things to come for the sport of rugby in the country.
The emergence of this Under 20 team, which is the best in Africa and among the best in the world points to a bright international future unless blunders are made along the way.
What is required with this foundation is to keep this Under 20 team and their coaches together as a unit as a starting point in building a far much stronger and far much different Sables.
Should Zimbabwe fail to qualify for the 2023 World Cup it would make sense to have this Under 20 team take over as the Sables with one or two additions from the current Sables to add that much needed experience.
By the time of post World Cup 2023, the Young Sables would have gained much in experience and stature and would also have built a far much stronger and better understanding of each other’s play.
In fact, qualifying for the World Rugby Junior Trophy has boosted their confidence and reaching the quarter finals at the World Trophy finals would even be greater motivation for the future Sables.
So far, things are looking good for rugby with this Under 20 side and hats off to Aaron Jani and his team at Zimbabwe Rugby for laying down the foundation for what looks like a bright future ahead.
What is heartening at Zimbabwe Rugby is the fact that their development programs are not confined to the men’s teams only.
The women’s teams be they for sevens rugby or the senior team do not miss international competitions be they be at regional, continental, or international, as long as they have the chance to.
It is a good lesson that success in sport does not start at the top but is built from a solid foundation, something that Zimbabwean football has chosen to ignore.
Football, unfortunately, expects success at Warriors level but down there, there are no junior development structures for new and young talent to sail through into the Warriors.
The conveyor belt like old system that started from the Under 17 to the Under 23, via the Under 20s has been hacked to pieces, and age cheating players are being randomly picked up for national duty.
Most of the Zifa president have come on board and left claiming credit for taking the Warriors to the Afcon finals but not even one has spoken about the success of any Zimbabwean junior national team.
The football leadership has always believed and still believe that the game begins and ends with the Warriors, forgetting that, there is more to that.
What is worrying is that almost half of the Warriors team, Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiart, Never Tigere, Kuda Mahachi, Thabani Kamusoko, Onismo Bhasera, Alec Mudimu, Bruce Kangwa, Godknows Murwira, and Gerald Takwara, need to be replaced but the reservoir has been destroyed.
Rugby has national teams and national coaches at Under 14, Under 17, Under 19 levels to feed their senior national team with new talent and that is the path that football must take.
Sadly, though, Zimbabwe first has to negotiate its way back into Fifa and into international football before starting all over again.
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