Johannesburg — AFRICAN rugby has new champions and they are the Sables of Zimbabwe.
The Sables' steady progress on the international scene finally brought the African title to Zimbabwe after the national rugby side beat Uganda 22-18 in the Africa Cup final in Tunis, Tunisia on Saturday.
It was a long journey that started in 2009 when the Sables took part in the Confederation of Africa Cup Southern Region tournament in Botswana and won the tourney.
A year later, Zimbabwe took part in the Victoria Cup.
All this time it was coach Brandon Dawson and his assistant Cyprian "Supa Coach" Mandenge who were in charge of the Sables.
Last year, the Sables finally got it right by winning the Victoria Cup by beating both Uganda and Kenya home and away and also beating Madagascar to win the Africa Cup Group 1B tournament.
Under the guidance of Mandenge in Kampala last year, after Dawson was not able to travel due to other commitments, the Sables destroyed hosts Uganda in the first game before beating Madagascar to gain promotion into the World Cup qualifying Group 1A.
This marked the awakening of the sleeping African rugby giant as Zimbabwe went on to win the Victoria Cup for the first time, got their highest ranking ever (32), finished the season with a record-equalling five-game unbeaten run and, above all, were promoted to Group 1A.
On Tuesday, the Sables made their intentions clear with a 30-14 win over hosts Tunisia in the first semi-final, to set up a final berth against Uganda who had beaten rivals Kenya 20-19 in the other semi-final.
Led by veteran lock and captain, Costa Dinha, the Sables gave their all in the final and at one stage were leading 22-3.
But Uganda fought back, scoring 15 unanswered points. However, the Sables held on.
There were tears of joy and wild celebrations at the end as the green-and-white Sables lifted the trophy for the first time.
Having won the Africa Cup after beating Tunisia and Uganda, the Sables have automatically moved to where they belong as the top rugby nation in Africa, as South Africa are not included in this region, extending their unbeaten run to a new record of seven successive games.
While the likes of the centre pairing of Daniel Hondo and Cleopas Makotose, props Brian Makamure and Denford Mutamangira, loose forwards
Shingi Mpofu and Jacques Leitao, wingers Tangai Nemadire, Kudakwashe Chiwanza and Garnder Nechgironga were part of last year's campaign, there were new faces this time.
In the forwards, Jakov Jakov, justified his inclusion in the squad, Raymond de Jong fared well at number 15 while the highly-rated Lenience Tambwera was impressive. Eighthman T.J. Chifokoyo, was also brilliant.
Dawson was not hesitant to throw these debutantes into the fray and they repaid him with a good show.
Last year a number of debutantes also wore the senior team jersey and they included scrummy Charles Jiji, Karuru, Chiwanza who came through the Under-20 Junior World Rugby Trophy national side.
Jiji, de Jong, Makamure, Karuru, Chiwanza and Tambwera and Tichafara Makwanya have all represented Zimbabwe at the Under-20 level and their integration with the likes of Norman Mukondiwa, Hondo, hooker/flanker Prayer Chitenderu, Dinha, lock Fortune Chipendu and Leitao could carry Zimbabwe through the 2015 World Cup qualifiers next year.
With the Victoria Cup still come, more is expected from the Sables.
Sables: Denford Mutamangira, Tatenda Karuru, Piet Joubert, Constantine Dinha, Jan Ferreira, Shingirai Mpofu, Jacques Leitao, Norman Mukondiwa, Scotty Jones, Tichafara Makwanya, Kudakwashe Chiwanza, Daniel Hondo, Josh Rowe, Gardner Nechironga , Tangai Nemandire, Brian Makamure, Jakov Jakov, Prayer Chitenderu , Fortune Chipendu, T.J. Chifokoyo, Charles Jiji, Lenience Tambwera, Raymond De Jong, Cleopas Makotose.