SMALL IN SIZE, BIG IN INFLUENCE

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor

A SEARCH for where we are, if one uses the alphabetical order of names of countries, will reveal we are at the bottom of the world.

And, a similar search for where we are, if one uses the global map, will also show we reside somewhere at the very bottom of the world.

It will show we are a very small African country, in terms of size, 390,757 km², seven times smaller than Algeria’s size of 2,381,741 km².

And we occupy just 0.26 percent of the earth size.

We also have a relatively small population, about 14 645 468 people, 14 times less than Nigeria’s huge number of 200 963 599 citizens.

But, what we lack in size, and numbers, we seem to make up in our quality and we have generally punched above our weight in sport.

Of course, not really to the levels of New Zealand, fittingly described by CNN this week as “the small country at the bottom of the world that keeps on rising to the top.’’

But, in our special way, we have rocked the globe and keep leaving an impression.

The Rugby World Cup 2019 enters the business end this weekend with the quarter-finals being held today and tomorrow.

And, even though the Sables haven’t been part of the show since 1991, there will be a Zimbabwean influence to the show.

England and Australia start the ball rolling in the knockout battles at the 40 000-capacity Oita Stadium this morning.

It’s a repeat of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final in Sydney which England won to shatter the dreams of the Wallabies, on home soil, and their skipper George Musarurwa Gregan.

Born in Zambia, to a Zimbabwean mother and an Aussie father in 1973, he moved to Australia when he was still a baby.

With 139 caps for the Wallabies, including winning the 1999 Rugby World Cup, Gregan is Australia’s most capped rugby player.

But, the Zimbabwean influence in the Wallabies team didn’t end with Gregan.

Today, Zimbabwe-born David Pocock, the breakdown warrior, is set to start alongside his skipper Michael Hooper in what experts believe will be a decisive contest against the England duo of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

Four years ago, Pocock and Hooper helped dump England from the World Cup on English soil.

He grew up on a farm in Gweru and migrated to Brisbane, with his family, in 2002, but despite playing for the Wallabies all his career, Pocock retains a special attachment for his country of birth.

And, he regularly returns home to take part in anti-poaching activities and efforts to save the rhino.

“Politics and all the rest aside, there’s something there that really connects with me and I think that’s where I feel most at home,’’ he told the Huffington Post three years ago.

“I think something in the bush really connects with people on a deep level.’’

Tomorrow, in Tokyo, there will be another Zimbabwean flavour in the quarter-final showdown between the Springboks and Japan’s Brave Blossoms.

Tendai “Beast’’ Mtawarira will start for the Boks against a Japanese side that has charmed the world with their free-spirited displays.

When the Beast became South Africa’s most capped Super Rugby player this year, Pocock took to Twitter to congratulate him.

“Congratulations @Beast_TM on becoming South Africa’s most capped @SuperRugby player this weekend,’’ he tweeted.

“You’re a great ambassador for rugby and Makorokoto mkoma!’’

Five of the tries, which have taken Japan this far, have been scored by flying winger, Kotaro Munyaradzi Matsushima.

His father, the late Roderick Blackman Ngoro, was a Zimbabwean journalist who was found dead in his room at Wits University in February 2010, where he was studying a PhD in media studies.

His mother, Taeko Matsushima, is Japanese and the dashing wing was born in Pretoria.

Both Mtawarira and Munyaradzi are graduates from the famous Sharks Academy rugby school.

What this means is that, irrespective of the outcome of tomorrow’s match, there will be a Zimbabwean influence in the Rugby World Cup 2019 semi-finals.

But, how does a country as small as Zimbabwe continue to have such a profound influence in sport?

“There is something about us, nobody knows what really it is, but it’s there somewhere, and it’s special,’’ Peter Ndlovu, the first African footballer to feature in the English Premiership, once told me.

And, he is right.

Just three months ago, the world watched in disbelief as England and New Zealand clashed in what is being celebrated as one of the greatest Cricket World Cup finals which had to be decided by a Super Over.

The Black Caps lost that final, but won many hearts with their battling performance, and their team also featured a former Zimbabwe cricketer, all-rounder Collin de Grandhomme who scored 16 runs, off 28 balls, and took 1-25, in his 10 overs, in that Lord’s showdown.

De Grandhomme started his cricket career playing for Manicaland and was part of the Zimbabwe team at the 2004 Under-19 ICC Cricket World Cup in Bangladesh.

That Zimbabwe Under-19 team featured the likes of Tino Mawoyo (captain), Elton Chigumbura, Graeme Cremer, Tinashe Panyangara, Ed Rainsford, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya and Sean Williams.

They thrashed an Aussie side, led by the same man who captained Australia at this year’s Ashes, Tim Paine, by seven wickets and made it into the Super League where the highlight of their campaign was beating New Zealand by 92 runs.

That Ashes thriller, which followed the World Cup, also featured another player with Zimbabwean roots with Sam Curran, a 21-year-old all-rounder, playing a huge part in that.

Seven years ago, Curran was representing the Zimbabwe Under-13 at the 2011/12 Cricket South Africa Under-13 Week tournament.

He is the youngest son of former Zimbabwe international and coach, Kevin, who collapsed, while jogging in Mutare, and died at the age of 53 in 2012.

Kevin was the head of the Zimbabwe Cricket Academy, at the time of his death, while Sam went to Springvale House, in Rusape, and St George’s College before moving to England.

His brother Tom was part of the England squad that won the World Cup on July 14, this year, but did not feature in any of the matches.

Not many small countries like Zimbabwe produce a golfer like Nick Price, who wins three Major golf titles and is ranked world number one.

A world diving champion like Evan Stewart, a World Champion and Olympic gold-winning medalist like Kirsty Coventry and such illustrious tennis stars like Byron, Wayne and Cara Black.

It’s easy to forget that Kevin Ullyett won two Grand Slam titles in tennis, Andy Flower was once ranked the number one batsman in the world, Heath Streak squeezed into the top six bowlers in the world.

Duncan Fletcher ended England’s miserable Ashes run as coach and scores of local boys have propped up the Springboks.

That momentum continues at this Rugby World Cup.