Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE’S Cheetahs flew into Hong Kong on Monday with coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba confident that they will give a good account of themselves at the World Series Sevens qualifiers that will start on Saturday. Nyamutsamba stuck with his word to blend youth and experience and is set to hand three players – Ngoni Chibuwe, Ziyanda Khupe and Connor Pritchard – their World Series debuts while he also recalled veteran Gardner Nechironga to the 12-man side that made the trip.
The Cheetahs flew out to Hong Kong via Johannesburg for the competition where they will face off against 11 other countries for the sole ticket to core status.
Nyamutsamba’s men who have been on remarkable rebuilding exercise after missing out on the 2017 qualifiers, were drawn in Pool F where they will play Germany, Papua New Guinea and the hosts.
The cheetahs have in the last two years seen their fortunes take a slump, largely due to the retirement of a number of key and experienced payers that had carried the national team for a long period.
Despite battling with limited resources, Nyamutsamba and team manager Donald Mangenje have put on a commendable shift to rebuild the team and they reaped some instant rewards on Uganda last year when they secured a place at the World Cup scheduled for United states later in July.
When the Hong Kong tournament starts on Friday, a place in the World Series will be at stake but a realistic Nyamutsamba said he would be content with some good performances that would put their World Cup preparations in good stead.
The unassuming coach said winning the Hong Kong tournament would be a huge bonus and set an initial target of a quarter-final place for the Cheetahs.
Nyamutsamba also noted that his charges were work in progress having just concluded their fist competition of the year as runners-up to Kenya at the Victoria Falls Sevens a fortnight ago.
The former Zimbabwe international said he was happy with the way his charges had stepped up their act ahead of the world Series qualifiers.
“Preparations have gone on well, with only one change from the Vic Falls team, this being second week in camp, we actually managed to cover a bit more ground.
“We are still a team on a rebuilding exercise that started last year, and this is our first international tournament and it will give us the much needed exposure as we try to build a team that can compete at a world stage.
“Three of the players get their first taste of international rugby and I look forward to see how they adopt (Connor, Chibuwe, and Khupe),’’ Nyamutsamba said.
The Zimbabwe coach believes his cheetahs will emerge from Hong Kong a much better side as they continue to have the bigger eye on the World Cup tourney.
“Coming out of Hong Kong we will definitely be a better team and a step up with our World Cup preparations.
“The whole tournament in Vic Falls our defence stood out, in all Sevens games only four tries scored against us, was very positive, we have worked more on attack this week, with the speed of youth and experience combining very well.
“Fitness is a process, we are definitely a better team than when we started two weeks ago, however, still a lot of work needs to be done for us to reach the desired world class standards,’’ Nyamutsamba said.
The coach also spoke about Nechironga’s return to the fold.
“He is an experienced player and for this knockout tournament we need the stability and we played him in the Goshawks and he proved his fitness level in Vic Falls,’’ said Nyamutsamba.
Team: Biselele Tshamala, Connor Pritchard,Boyd Rouse, Ziyanda Khupe, Ngoni Chibuwe, Gardner Nechironga, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Njabulo Ndlovu, Hilton Mudariki (Captain), Lenience Tambwera, Stephan Hunduza, Riaan O’Niel
Head Coach: Gilbert Nyamutsamba, Assistant Coach: Tangai Nemadire
Manager: Donald Mangenje
Physiotherapist: Margaret Gibson
* World Rugby Tournament debut