25 September 2008

Zimbabwe: Sables Would Have Been World-Class

A FORTNIGHT ago a reader wrote to the South African weekly, the Sunday Times saying:

"It is a sobering thought that if world-class players such as Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Kennedy Tsimba, Tonderai Chavhanga, and Takudzwa Ngwenya had stayed in Zimbabwe, we (South Africa) would have had a strong opposition close to home."

This is hardly a disputable impression.

Come to think of how a world-class side Zimbabwe would have had if our exiled players represented their country of birth.

This country has produced such fine rugby players and it is not surprising that three Zimbabweans have played Test rugby for the Springboks this season. There are other active players who have reached lofty heights for their adopted countries.

One current player who comes to mind is the Western Force flanker David Pocock, who has captained the Australia Under 20s and made appearances for Australia A in 2007. Pocock, who was born in Gweru, is compared to no less an ace than New Zealand flanker and captain Richie McCaw.

He is tipped as a future great of the game, mainly for his non-stop play that saw him force more turnovers in a match where he was pitted against the All Blacks skipper.

Below is our dream Zimbabwe Sables line-up. Note that we have only included currently active players who have turned out for other countries or have not played for the Sables for the last five years or more.

Fantasy Sables Expats XV:

Fullback: Tonderai Chavhanga

A man who needs no introduction. He was the fastest man in rugby union when making his debut for South Africa, scoring six tries against Uruguay in 2005, a Springbok record. He represented Zimbabwe Schools in the Craven Week. We have used him at fullback where his vision and speed can also be utilised.

Rightwinger: Takudzwa Ngwenya

The 23-year-old United States tear-away winger is famous for skinning Bryan Habana to score a wonder try for the US Eagles at the 2007 World Cup in France. Ngwenya migrated to America with his parents five years ago. He attended Vainona High School where he also excelled in athletics. He did not play any representative rugby for his native Zimbabwe.

Outside-centre: Nyasha Shumba

A top player for the Esher Club in the National League Two in England. The former Churchill High School star played in Zimbabwe for Old Georgians Sports Club in the late 1990s before leaving for the UK. He is otherwise a regular winger, but his eye for gaps and sudden burst of pace makes him equally at home at outside-centre.

Inside-centre: Nils Mordt

The former England Sevens international currently plays for Northampton Saints in the English Premiership. He is the nephew of Zimbabwean-born ex-Springok Ray Mordt. Born in Harare in 1983, Nils left the country at a young age so did not play representative rugby for Zimbabwe.

Left-winger: Edmore Takaendesa

Takaendesa last played for Zimbabwe in early 2000 before moving to Germany. Several efforts to bring him back for international matches have been unsuccessful. A speedy utility back for Old Hararians for three seasons, the Prince Edward-educated speed merchant plays for top German side RGH Rugby Club.

Flyhalf: Kennedy Tsimba (captain)

Regarded as the best player in world rugby at his peak for the Cheetahs and the Cats in Super Rugby, he only missed out on becoming a Springbok because of citizenship complications.

The diminutive flyhalf is currently in the twilight stages of his illustrious career at Griffons.

Tsimba was Zimbabwe's first black captain in 1998 when Wales toured and played at the National Sports Stadium, but left the country thereafter to play for Bath in the UK.

Scrumhalf: Matt Reid

A highly-rated scrumhalf from the Hertford club in the Hertfordshire Rugby Union in the UK. The Harare-born was lined-up for Zimbabwe this year but never turned up.

Eighthman: Keenan Marais

The former Prince Edward and Zimbabwe Schools steely eighthman could be lost to Zimbabwe rugby. He is based in New Zealand at the St Bedes College.

Open-side flanker: Gordon Pangeti

Pangeti is a winger at Pumas in South Africa. He gets a place in this team as an open-side flanker because of his ball carrying attributes. Educated at Prince Edward, he is also a top Sevens player in South Africa. He is tipped to be a Wallaby great.

Blind-side flanker: David Pocock

He is tipped to become a Wallaby great.

Lock: Scott Gray

Thirty year-old Gray was born in Harare and is a flanker who played for Scotland. He is a product of Peterhouse College and qualified for Scotland through his Scottish born father. He currently turns out for Northampton Saints in the English Premiership.

Lock: Andrew Rose

A flanker, he comes in at lock. Rose is a former Zimbabwe Under 19 captain who represented Scotland at the IRB World Junior Trophy in Wales this year. He was born in Harare and schooled at Peterhouse College.

Loosehead prop: Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira

A rising star in world rugby, the Sharks and Springbok loose-head is regarded as heir apparent to Bok legend Os du Randt. "Beast", who was educated at Churchill in Harare and Peterhouse in Marondera, played for Zimbabwe Schools at the Craven Week before signing up for the Shark Academy in Durban.

Hooker: Vakai Hove

The former Prince Edward and University of Cape Town star is a prop but makes it as a hooker here.

Tight-head prop: Brian Mujati

The powerfully-built Stormers front-rower is one of the three current Zim-Boks.

He made a dream first XV start alongside Mtawarira in the Boks front row against Australia in a Tri-Nations test in August. Mujati represented Zimbabwe at the Under 21 level.

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