The Sunday Mail
Deputy Sports Editor
FOLLOWING failure by their male counterparts to win the Rugby Africa Sevens Cup, focus has shifted to the Lady Cheetahs, who will be making a bid to qualify for the 2024 Olympics.
The Cheetahs fell short of qualifying for the Olympics after finishing fourth in the Africa Cup, which they hosted in Harare last weekend.
Kenya won the tournament, which also served as the 2024 Olympic Games qualifier for the African Zone.
For Zimbabwe, the baton now moves to the women’s side, who will take part in their version of the Africa Cup scheduled for Tunisia from October 14 to 15.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) women’s committee chairperson Abigail Mnikwa is, however, happy that despite financial challenges, the Lady Cheetahs remain determined and focused on their mission.
The team has managed to lure foreign-based players to come for national duty.
“This year, we have been very fortunate that some South Africa-based players have shown interest in playing for their country, and that speaks of what we have been doing to try and improve women’s rugby,” said Mnikwa.
“The Lady Cheetahs didn’t stop training after the qualifiers because we felt the new coach (Cyprian Mandenge) needed more time with them in order for him to also know them.
“Now, we are looking to escalate the weekly training session into a camp.”
Hopes of taking the team to a high- performance centre in South Africa have been hamstrung by funding challenges.
“You can never have enough money . . . We would have loved to go to the high-performance centre but the money is not there,” she said.
“But we are grateful to the sponsors that have stuck with us, who include First Link Insurance . . . they have catered for the kit and the medical insurance of the players, and they are promising to do bigger and better things going forward.
“The Government — through the Ministry of Sports (Recreation, Arts and Culture) — has shown a keen interest to support the girl child.
“Our girls have so much potential and are one of the few African teams playing with structure, and if there is a team that has the potential to take rugby to the World Cup or Olympics, then it is the women, but it takes a lot of funding and sacrifices, and we are slowly getting there.”
Mandenge is looking to take his charges to Kariba or Chinhoyi for a training camp prior to their departure for Tunisia.
“This is what we have been planning for some time now, but the challenge has always been finance,” he said.
“We have been knocking on people’s doors and hope to get a positive response one of these days . . .
“Tunisia is going to be really hot and I want to help the girls acclimatise to similar conditions.”
Much like the men’s version, this year’s edition of the Africa Women’s Sevens tournament is set to double as qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The winner will automatically qualify, while the second- and third-placed teams will still stand a chance at the 2024 Final Olympic Qualification Tournament.
In addition, the top two teams will qualify for the 2024 Challenger Series.
Zimbabwe breezed through the preliminary round of the competition held in Zambia early this year.
They now join Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana and hosts Tunisia for next month’s competition.
The event held in July was coincidentally Mandenge’s first assignment, as it came just over a week after his appointment.
He has tried to keep his charges active by training twice a week.
“When we came back from Zambia, we did not stop training and have been having two sessions every week (Wednesdays and Sundays) at Old Hararians and Eaglesvale School.
“The girls have been working because when we went to Zambia, we discovered that we were the only team which had not had a long camp or time together as a unit.
“If you look at the other nations, they had been together for more than two months.
“The difference was very clear for all to see, and we sailed through due to individual brilliance and sheer resilience rather than anything else.
“In the time since, we have been working on team chemistry and patterns in attack and defence.
“While you want to give your players the freedom to express themselves, teamwork is also a very important component of the game,” he said.
LADY CHEETAHS SQUAD:
Kudzai Wasili, Trish Moko, Tadiwa Chendambuya, Rufaro Tagarira, Wadzanai Chidawa, Chiwoniso Mabika, Rumbidzai Chigumbu, Delight Mukomondo, Erika Mack, Pauline Sianga, Nichole Dube, Michelle Dube, Cynthia Mukwesha, Ruvimbo Mudya, Kudzi Chirinda, Gladys Mukome, Tarren Munodaani (SA), Nyasha Gonamombe (SA), Kuziva Gonamombe, Robyn Mhembere, Renee Phiri, Lovelight Fusire, Voice Ndou (SA), Tanya Shava (SA)