Former Zimbabwe Sevens star Gardner Nechironga says possession and dominance at the breakdown will be the key for the Cheetahs at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Africa Rugby Sevens qualifying tournament in South Africa this weekend.BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The Cheetahs will bid to become the second Zimbabwean team sport to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games when they take part in the continental qualifiers set for the Barnard Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday and Sunday.
With the continent’s best rugby-playing nation, South Africa, having already qualified for next year’s Olympics, Kenya are Zimbabwe’s biggest threat in their bid to book a ticket to Brazil. However, Nechironga, who helped the Cheetahs qualify for two Sevens Rugby World Cups in a glittering career which lasted over a decade, said Zimbabwe could upstage the more-fancied Kenyans if they dominate the breakdown areas and possession.
“I think we have a very good chance of qualifying for the Olympics and the belief amongst the boys is certainly there,” Nechironga told NewsDay Sport from his base in South Africa.
“It’s going to be very important for us to keep possession of the ball, especially when you’re playing against a top side like Kenya. We need to starve them of possession right from the beginning and make sure we also work very hard at the breakdown, especially at the ruck situations. When we have the ball, we should be prepared to run hard and make sure we finish off every chance we have and we also need to make sure our decision-making is spot-on,” he said.
At the 12-team qualifiers, the Cheetahs have been drawn to play in Pool B with Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia, with all the group stage fixtures set for Saturday.
Pool A features Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Senegal, while Pool C comprises Tunisia, Morocco, Namibia and Botswana.
The pool winners and the best finisher from the three pools will proceed to the semi-finals.
The winner of the 12-team tournament will qualify for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, while the second, third and fourth-placed teams will participate in another qualifying tournament in June.
Last week, Cheetahs coach Danny Hondo named a strong 16-man squad ahead of the training camp, which started on Sunday at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria.
Although Zimbabwe will be without their skipper Hilton Mudariki due to injury, they still boast of a formidable squad and Nechironga believes the presence of experienced players such as Manasah Sita and Jacques Leitao is a massive boost for the Cheetahs.
“It’s always important to have the experienced players, especially at such an important tournament, where there is a lot at stake. They can be a calming influence to the younger players and I also believe they will lead from the front and gel well with the younger players,” Nechironga added.
Jacques Leitao (captain), Kuda Chiwanza, Njabulo Ndlovu, Kilvan Magunje, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Stephan Hunduza, Graham Kaulback, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Manasah Sita, Mkhululi Ndhlela, Takudzwa Francisco, Boyd Rouse, Lenience Tambwera, Shayne Makombe, Biselele Tshamala, Riaan O’Neill