Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWEAN rugby yesterday added some South African flavour when former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers was named head coach of the senior national side, the Sables, on a two-year contract.
De Villiers, coach of one of the best rugby teams in the world from 2008 to 2011, was named as the new Sables boss by Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president Aaron Jani at a Harare hotel.
Brendan Dawson, a former Sables skipper and coach, was also unveiled as De Villiers’s assistant.
The immediate task of the new Sables’ technical team is to take charge of the side’s quest to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Zimbabwe take on Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia and Uganda for a place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The country that tops the six-team log will automatically book a place in Japan. There is also an opportunity for the second-placed side to head to Japan via inter-confederation play-offs.
As a sign of confidence in the Jani leadership, which was elected into office in December 2017, it was announced at yesterday’s unveiling event that the new Sables mentor will get a courtesy vehicle from ZIMOCO, the sole official distributor of Mercedes-Benz passenger and commercial vehicles as well as Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Great Wall Motors, Mitsubishi, FUSO and Freightliner in Zimbabwe.
The 60-year-old De Villiers was the Springboks coach from 2008 until after the 2011 World Cup in Australia.
During his tenure as Springboks coach, he enjoyed mixed fortunes; winning the 2009 Tri-Nations, a Test series triumph over the British and Irish Lions in the same year and a tremendous first victory over New Zealand in Dunedin in July 2008 when the Boks won 30-28.
Following a quarter-final defeat to Australia at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, De Villiers’ contract was not renewed by the South African Rugby Union.
The outspoken De Villiers yesterday declared his readiness for Zimbabwe’s 2019 Rugby World Cup qualification quest. He expressed his gratitude to the sponsors for their continued backing of the game in Zimbabwe and called on the fans to back the team.
“We are ready to start work towards qualifying for the World Cup in Japan 2018. I would also like to thank the sponsors, who have committed their support to Zimbabwe rugby. The supporters are the 16th player, so let’s get behind the team and the nation. I also want to thank my management team Yasina Sports for their guidance and professionalism from the start of this process, and also going forward. It’s your time, it’s our time, it’s the Sables’ time. Japan 2019, here we come,’’ De Villiers said.
Dawson is the most successful modern era Sables coach, having presided over the team from 2007 until the beginning of 2015 when the job was given to Cyprian Mandenge.
The former Sables’ skipper won the then Confederation of African Rugby Southern Trophy in Gaborone, Botswana in 2009. The following year, the Sables were on the rise, winning the 2010 Africa Cup 1C to earn promotion into 1B. They did not stay long in that pool as they booked a place in 1A in 2011.
Zimbabwe went on to win the 2012 Africa Cup, with a 22-18 score line over Uganda in Tunisia. They finished as runners-up to Kenya in 2013 before narrowly missing out on a place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup when Namibia sneaked through on points’ difference.
A costly mistake by Sables skipper Daniel Hondo a match they won 28-10 against Kenya saw them missing out on a World Cup place. Hondo opted for flyhalf Guy Cronje to kick for the posts from a penalty, instead of taking a scrum and going for a fourth try, which would have earned Zimbabwe a bonus point and an automatic ticket to the World Cup in England.
Zimbabwe went on to lose 15-23 to Russia in a play-off.
The Sables coaching post has been vacant since August last year when ZRU disbanded the Mandenge-led technical team after a disastrous campaign in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup. Zimbabwe narrowly survived relegation, with their only victory being 28-16 over Senegal in Dakar.
Yesterday’s unveiling was attended by, among others, Jani, his two vice-presidents, Losson Mtongwiza (northern region), Martin Shone (southern region), Sables organising committee chairman Gerald Mlotshwa as well as Sports and Recreation Commission high performance manager Martin Dururu.