The Sunday Mail
THERE was something symbolic if not poetic about Tonderai Chavhanga’s debut as a coach when Zimbabwe’ took their bow at the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in South Africa a fortnight ago.
Chavhanga was back in the country he called home for much of his international playing career, and finally with the country that is his fatherland.
The fact that the Zimbabwe Academy side’s first game — a 41-16 drubbing at the hands of Border Bulldogs — was played at Buffalo City Stadium was to be the icing on the cake.
The venue, formerly known as the Basil Kenyon Stadium, was the very same stadium of his Springbok debut in 2005, when the then 21-year-old former Prince Edward student marked his arrival onto the international stage with six tries during South Africa’s 134-3 rout of Uruguay.
But 14 years on he was back at the same stadium on yet another rugby mission, albeit for a different debut… that of a coach, which, however, ended in defeat.
“It was very disappointing not to have walked away with a win, especially given the opportunity we left on the field,” said the 35-year-old.
“But such is the nature of the game and we have to learn from it and move on.
“That said, it was indeed an incredible honour for me to be in the Zimbabwe coaches’ box’’.
On the differences between the two debuts, the former Springboks winger did not mince his words
“The two (debuts) were very much different and this is because as a player I was in charge of my own performance, and knew what I had to do to get the best out of me.
“As a coach, now, all I can do is best prepare the players and when the whistle blows it’s all up to them,” he said.
Chavhanga’s first international coaching stint has not gone according to plan with the Zimbabwe Academy losing their first two assignments.
Today, the former Springboks speed merchant will be hoping for a change of fortunes.
The Zimbabwe Academy go into today’s fixture against South Western District Eagles after defeats to Border Bulldogs (41-16) and Cell C Sharks XV (14-36).
Those defeats have left Zimbabwe anchoring their group and they will be hoping for a much-improved performance in today’s encounter against the SWD Eagles at D’Almeida Stadium.
Despite all this, Chavhanga remains one of the brighter aspects of Zimbabwe’s participation at the tournament.
Apart from Chavhanga, Zimbabwe Academy coach Brendan Dawson has also roped another ex-Springboks duo — Marius Hurter and Brendan Venter — whose collective experience he believes could help aid the team’s cause.
“We have a squad with loads of raw talent and the future is exciting and full of promise.
“The reality is that in order for us to reach our potential we have to get our core or basic skills right and learn to make the most of the opportunities that we either create or that present themselves.
“In as far as my contributions are concerned, the value of my time and knowledge in South Africa will be measured by how our team adapts to the various challenges and opposition we face each week and how the team reacts to it,” Chavhanga said.
Dawson also praised the impact that Chavhanga has so far made on his charges.
“Obviously Tonde (Chavhanga) comes in with a lot of experience and knowledge of the terrain, the results are starting to show.
“Has brought in a lot of flair and confidence to our backline, as someone these boys grew up idolising. I am very grateful and he has been very tremendous for us,” Dawson said.
The two-time Currie Cup First Division champions will be Zimbabwe’s third game in the SuperSport Challenge Cup, and the game Dawson has targeted to be the turning point of the country’s participation in the competition.
“Our expectations are very high, we are really targeting this game and believe we can finally get a result,’’ said Dawson.
“We have had two losses in our opening fixtures, but from my perspective it’s all about growth.
“We are competing against teams that have been together for two-three years, and if you check we were together for about four days before our opening game against Border Bulldogs.
“Our performances have improved with each game since then, and now we have been together for over two weeks and in that period the boys have learnt a lot and gained a lot of experience.
Skipper Brendon Mandivenga is expected to sit out this game again after sustaining an ankle injury in the 41-16 loss to the Bulldogs but Dawson expects to have him back in action for next weekend’s fixture against the DHL Western Province.