The Sunday Mail
THE Zimbabwe Rugby Union have moved to bridge the gap between the schools and the club game by setting up a Varsities League that is aimed at harnessing the talent in tertiary institutions.
ZRU vice president Martin Shone told The Sunday Mail Sport that the unveiling of the league was one of a number of initiatives that the union had embarked on to widen the player base that would feed into the various national teams which include the flagship side the Sables, and the Sevens sides — the Cheetahs and Lady Cheetahs. The ZRU leadership have made qualification for the 2023 World Cup in France, one of their major priorities with all efforts being put into place to ensure the Sables are adequately prepared for that mission.
Shone believes the introduction of the Varsities League will also ensure that the talent that has been lost to rugby when learners leave High School is retained as those players in higher learning institutions will now have a platform to play the sport competitively.
Neighbours South Africa have a strong Varsities League that has been a conveyor belt of talent that is eventually fed into making the Springboks the world champions they are.
It is along the same path that the ZRU have sought to capitalise on the increased number of universities in the country to widen the country’s player base.
“Basically what the Varsity League has come in to do is to bridge the gap between the xarsities and the schools. We have been losing a lot of players once they leave school and go to universities in different parts of the country. Some of the universities do not have rugby being played at the institutions and if it was played it was more on a social basis so forming a league would then harness all the players that have left school to go varsity or are in varsity.
“So those should be able to form the core of our Under-18s, Under-23s and part of the Academy side and even the national teams. So it’s a welcome development that the union have embarked on. With time we wish to obviously compete with neighbouring countries like South Africa that have the Varsity Cup and emulate the same strategies that they have put in place to have a successful Varsity League.
“We are currently speaking to a number of sponsors that should be coming on board to assist us in making this Varsity League a success, so it is a good initiative and we hope to build from strength to strength going forward,’’ Shone said.
The development has also excited some of the coaches who have passionately worked for development of rugby in the country and will be involved with the league.
Former Sables coach Cyprian Mandenge said while he welcomed the initiative, he challenged authorities in the universities to also embrace the league. “I think it is a very good idea but it needs proper structures and support from the colleges. The other thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of properly qualified coaches not only in that league but right across all age groups. We are producing a lot of half-baked products because of (sub-standard)coaching.
“More rugby is good because we are also losing a lot of players at that level. We have the coaches, but institutions don’t want to pay. The university administration has got to take it seriously,’’ said Mandenge.
Sport and Recreation Commission’s director for sport and recreation Sebastian Garikai in applauding the ZRU noted that their move was also in line with the regulatory body’s new strategy, which was being formulated.
“University League is a welcome development for the country. ZRU and the tertiary institutions must be commended for taking a step in the right direction.
“This is in line with the National Sports and Recreation Strategy being put in place where tertiary institutions are a critical transitional platform towards high performance stage.
“There has been a gap between high school sport and senior national teams and this Varsity League move is one of the solutions in making sure that the retention of athletes within the sport is improved together with new attraction of other talented players that might not have had an opportunity to be introduced to the game. The game of rugby for lack of a platform of this nature in the past has experienced a lot of talent drain,’’ Garikai said.
Garikai, who has worked tirelessly with the rugby side at Bindura University, also urged Zimbabweans to improve their investment in sport in different forms which include infrastructure and development of athletes.
“What is critical for all of us as a nation, however, is investing in an athlete-centred approach where good qualified coaches and support services are availed to the teams in the league for long-term sustainability of the project,’’ Garikai said.
Meanwhile, the ZRU board last week came down hard on the errant Bulawayo Metropolitan board and suspended them for alleged gross misconduct. The union issued a statement at the end of their indaba at which they indicated they would install an interim leadership for the Metropolitan
“Zimbabwe Rugby Union in one of several resolutions from the 1st 2020 board meeting will take punitive action against the Bulawayo Metropolitan Rugby Football Board after unsatisfactory practices that were deemed regressive to rugby.
“In the last rugby season Bulawayo Metro had several leadership changes including having three chairmen in the same season, this and lack of accountability resulted in a huge reduction in the amount of rugby actually played at different levels.
“We have had several issues coming from the Bulawayo Metropolitan Rugby Football Board and all the board room shifts have negatively affected the sport. ZRU will tighten the grip on any suspected malpractice, corruption and anything that affects the game of rugby,” ZRU president Aaron Jani said in the statement.
“The ZRU carried out a detailed internal investigation as advised by recommendations from the Sports and Recreation Commission, and will take the following three-pronged approach:
“1. Dissolve the entire Bulawayo Metropolitan Rugby Football Board with immediate effect.
“2. Order an Audit
“3. Appoint an interim board that will work on a specific mandate for 24 months. The mandate will prioritise the restoration of rugby, Hartsfield and all related structures. They will also ensure that there is a functional constitution which is in line with the main mother bodies constitutions,’’ Jani said.