The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
THE 2023 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series schedule has been released, with two three-day tournaments pencilled in next month at Markotter Stadium in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
The competitions will be held during the weekends of April 20-22 and April 28-30.
The Challenger Series provides a pathway to the new Sevens World Series, as the winner of the tournament proceeds to a four-team playoff at the HSBC London Sevens in May.
The series has the same format as the Olympic Games, with the 12 teams drawn into three pools of four.
Zimbabwe are in Pool A, together with Germany, Tonga and Belgium; while Pool B has Chile, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Italy.
Pool C has Uganda, South Korea, Brazil and Jamaica.
The top two teams from each group, as well as the two best third-placed finishers, will qualify for the knockout stages, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals leading to the bronze and gold medal matches.
This is the kind of news the Cheetahs camp have been waiting for.
Assistant coach Ricky Chirengende believes promotion into the World Series is a top priority.
“Our 2023 schedule, so far, is that we have next month’s Challenger Series and the Olympic qualifiers, which we will be hosting in September,” he said.
“The main target for the Cheetahs, obviously, is to try and make the circuit, when we go into the Challenger Series and qualify for the Olympics.
“Qualifying for the circuit is definitely going to be difficult as there are some quality sides vying for the same ticket.
“Uganda and Hong Kong are good Sevens outfits, while Tonga are on the up, and we already know what Germany are capable of.
“However, we are up for the challenge . . . We are hoping that we do well and (we) fancy our chances.”
The Cheetahs have been in camp since January, under the tutelage of head coach Graham Kaulback.
They are now expected to get to the business end of their preparations.
“For the past eight or so weeks, we have been concentrating on getting the boys back into shape, as we have concentrated on fitness and bulking up some of the lads.
“What this means is that a lot of the work that has gone into the boys is strength and conditioning and a lot of gym work,” said Chirengende.
“It’s only recently that we have started getting back onto the field to work on our technical skills and team play.”
The Cheetahs are well aware of the task that lies ahead at the Challenger Series, especially after being drawn against Tonga and Germany.
“It is a tough group, as there is Germany and Tonga — two very tough sides.
“Germany, of course, we are familiar with, as we played them when they came for the Zambezi Challenge, while Tonga are on the up again.
“They did very well when they played on the circuit in Australia and New Zealand, and it’s a very much improved Tonga side.
“Belgium are a bit of an unknown, but if a team is at the Challenger Series, it means they belong there.
“We are, however, up for the challenge and intend to give it a good run.”