The Sunday Mail
Tinashe Kusema —
SABLES coach Cyprian “Supa” Mandenge has called on the rugby fraternity to be patient with the team, asking for more time before he can fully implement his grand plan to resuscitate the sport’s waning fortunes.
Zimbabwe finally ended an eight-game losing streak when the Sables beat Papua New Guinea 38-11 in the last match of the Hong Kong Cup of Nations.
“It’s unfortunate that the one thing we need is the one we do not have: time,” said Mandenge.
“After the disastrous year we have had; we needed to react and react in a big way.
“We have since embarked on a rebuilding exercise.
“The just-ended Hong Kong Cup of Nations was the very first time we started trying to integrate some of these youngsters into the first team.
“We went with a couple of youngsters to Hong Kong, and I am glad to report that the boys held their own.”
Zimbabwe finished third in the four-team tournament, which also included the hosts, Russia and Papua New Guinea. Russia (14 points) took pole position, while Hong Kong finished runners-up on 10 points.
Zimbabwe (7) and Papua New Guinea (0) rounded off the log standings. While results did not go the way the Sables wanted, the team did endear itself to Hong Kong public and impress coach Mandenge.
Two matches come to mind: the first being their 15-19 loss to eventual winners Russia and then their 38-11 victory over Papua New Guinea. Trailing the defending champions 19-6 at halftime, the Sables completely shut out the Europeans in the second half and almost clawed their way back into the encounter.
“Results were never really the objective, going into the tournament, but it more about the way the boys handle themselves against top-class opposition and under tournament conditions.
“If we are to be totally honest, this tournament is more competitive than the Africa Cup and you can never replicate the level of experience one gets from taking part in it.
“Yes, we lost the two games, against Russia and Hong Kong, but I am extremely proud of the way the boys played.
“We managed to shut out Russia for a full half, recover from a poor start and come within just a try from what would have been a monumental win for us,” Supa said.
In the win over Papua New Guinea, Mandenge believes the team righted all the wrongs of the first two games. Zimbabwe outran and outmuscled Papua New Guinea, racing off to their first – and only – half-time lead (13-8) of the tournament.
The second half was one-way traffic as Zimbabwe found gaps in the Papua New Guinea interior defence and exerted their dominance even further.
“One might argue that the opposition sides were different but for me it more about application of strategies and the game plan than anything else.
“In sport, applying the basics and executing team strataegies is key to victory and based on what I saw in Hong Kong we are on the right track.
“What we need are more games, more friendlies and strengthening of our local league.
“I do not intend to sit on my laurels and can guarantee that the Sables will be active between now and next year Africa Cup tournament, regardless of there being any international friendlies or tournament.
“The team will be practicing from their bases and will meet periodically for camp,” the coach said.