Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union leadership yesterday said they were happy with their first engagement with Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, who promised her full backing in the development of the game, including their plans to join the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in South Africa.
Coventry, who has had a series of consultative meetings with key pillars in the sports fraternity since she came into office two months ago, yesterday got a debriefing from the leadership of the country’s third biggest sport, who explained the state of the game, their goals and challenges.
The meeting was attended by ZRU president Aaron Jani, his two deputies — Martin Shone and Losson Mtongwiza, the union’s chief executive officer Sifiso Made and officials from the ministry and the Sport and Recreation Commission.
Jani and his team emerged from the meeting bubbling with confidence. The ZRU president said they had a candid talk with the new minister who also laid down the law on the improvements she wants to see at the union.
“We just met with the minister and we have been very encouraged and we are very pleased with the outcome. The discussions were very frank. We highlighted the issues and the problems that we have as a union.
“The minister also highlighted the things that she would like to see and things that she would like addressed by the union. So it was very fruitful and we are very happy with the meeting.
“The future of rugby is very positive if our meeting is anything to go by. It’s very positive, the minister has highlighted all the areas that we need to focus on in terms of progress for the future. “So I think we are definitely on the same page and it’s looking very good,” said Jani.
The meeting, however, came in the backdrop of mixed fortunes by the national teams, with the flagship team, the Sables, failing to qualify for the World Cup following a poor run in the Gold Cup, which acted as a qualifier.
Instead of aiming for a 2019 World Cup berth, the Sables ended up fighting relegation into the Silver Cup, which they achieved on the last day of the qualifiers with a victory over Uganda in Kampala. But it has been a different story for the sevens side, the Cheetahs, who despite not being adequately resourced, carried the day for rugby in the last two seasons.
The Cheetahs were runners-up in the 2017 Gold Cup and went a step further to win the tournament this year.
Sandwiched between those two achievements was qualification for the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, United States.
Jani, a former Zimbabwe international, said they had also briefed Coventry on the interventions they have put in place to develop the game and was even pleased by the positive responses they got from the minister on their plans to join the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, which is the secondary domestic rugby union competition in South Africa.
The competition is organised by the South African Rugby Union and features all 14 South African provincial unions. It has a bit of foreign flavour in Namibia, who qualified for the World Cup after retaining the Gold Cup title.
The Namibian Welwitschias have been a dominant force in the Gold Cup. Zimbabwe want to be the 16th team at the tournament by fielding their side as from next year. The competition was set up last year as the long-term successor of the Vodacom Cup competition.
The SuperSport Rugby Challenge serves as an important developmental competition for South African rugby.
This year, the tournament was played over three months from April to July, with the Pumas, who hail from Mpumalanga Province, winning the title.
Jani said ZRU are aiming to expose local rugby players to competitive rugby across the borders regularly and will submit their application to the South Africa Rugby Union with the full blessings of the minister.
“There have been clear pointers that the minister has given us.
“For example, the SuperSport Challenge was a big thing that she highlighted and (she expressed) her full support for it.
“So we are going back, we are going to finalise our applications for the SuperSport Challenge and we hope we are going to be admitted into the SuperSport Challenge,” said Jani.