The Sunday Mail
FOR the better part of a decade now, the Zimbabwe Sables have been trying to rediscover the magic that once saw them heralded as a true giant of African rugby.
Second to only South Africa.
It is a mantle currently on the head of the Namibian Welwitschias; who for the past 10 years seem to have Zimbabwe’s number and currently enjoy a 10-game unbeaten run against the Sables.
Popular coach Peter De Villiers, for all his failure to bring about qualification to next year’s World Rugby World Cup in Japan, refuses to press the panic button and has instead purged his players, tried to introduce a little trickery into the Sables’ game and a strengthened mental approach.
All of which will be tested come Saturday, when the Sables begin the final lap of their 2018 Africa Gold Cup campaign with a cagey tie against Namibia at Hartsfield.
Few embody the Sables’ walk toward redemption more than Fortune Chipendu, the 35-year-old prop who himself is all too familiar with the threat Namibia poses and misery they have inflicted on the Sables.
“It’s Namibia turn to endure the agony of defeat” boldly declared the Old Georgians prop, for this rivalry to Chipendu is a little bit personal.
Of all the 10 straight victories Namibia enjoy over the Sables Chipendu has bore witness to all of them. And none hurt more, or struck a bigger chord, than last year’s 31-26 defeat during the Sables last Gold Cup encounter. It was a match the Sables could have and should have won, were it not for a last minute knock-on by the 35-year-old on the Namibian tryline and with virtually the last play of the game.
“I have been doing this for many years and have suffered many agonising defeats at both club and international rugby,” said Chipendu.
“Our (Cheetahs) defeat to Portugal in the final of the Sevens’ Core Status qualifiers back in 2012 and then the CAR Africa Cup tournament in Madagascar in 2014 were very painful, but pale in comparison to what transpired last year against Namibia.
“I remember the game very well, particularly one play where I think Connor (Pritchard) charged in for a try during the last minute of the game. “I really thought he was going to plant down the try, and followed in support, only for the ball to get popped out of his hands at the very last minute.
“I failed to react in time to get the ball, and knock it on and that was it.
“We lost that match and got relegated, and it really affected me for some time,” he said.
Luckily, the rugby gods appear to have given Chipendu a second chance.
The 35-year-old looks to be in the shape of his life and in spite of his World dream going up in flames, Chipendu still has plenty of goals to achieve and scores to settle.
“Namibia can be beat,” he said.
“If you look at our clashes over the last couple of years, we haven’t been blown out or suffered that many heavy defeats as compared to other teams.
“We just have to play to our strengths, give it 120% for the full 80 minutes and run at them and run hard.
“To be honest, I really didn’t think I would still be able to make the team.
“We have lots of young, talented and hungry guys in the team and it took a trip to Spain for me to get in the desired shape that was needed to make the grade.
“I got a contract to play in Spain, with a club called LA Villa, and worked very hard to be where I am right now.
“Breaking the streak against Namibia, while it is not in the same lengths as playing at the World Cup, would be a good way to end my career.
“Right now, I have put all retirement talk on ice and intend to put all my energy helping the team survive relegation and that starts with a win against Namibia,” he said.