THE Cheetahs trooped into camp yesterday evening and held their first training session as a group at Old Georgians Sports Club in preparation for the World Cup qualifiers. The tournament is set for Rabat, Morocco, at the end of this month but the Cheetahs will first travel to South Africa for the Middelburg Sevens as part of their final preparations for the qualifiers.
They will travel with their second string side, the Goshawks, and return on Sunday before flying out to Morocco on Tuesday for the continental showpiece where Zimbabwe are tipped to do well.
The South Africa-based duo of Tafadzwa Chitokwindo and Njabulo Ndlovu arrived yesterday while Wesely Mbanje arrived on Friday.
Gardner Nechironga and coach Gilbert "Gidza" Nyamutsamba arrived yesterday from Bulawayo.
The home-based old horses, who include captain Jacques Leitao, Fortune Chipendu, and Danny Hondo, were joined by Sables' flyhalf, Lenience Tambwera and Lucky Sithole, who both get their first call-up to the side.
Scotty Jones makes a return to the side after more than a year and Cheetahs' manager Bruce Hobson believes the Middelburg tournament will be key to his side.
In trying to build a strong squad, Hobson said they have made an arrangement to take the Goshawks with them to Middelburg.
"I have been talking to the likes of Lenience Tambwera and Tapiwa Tsomondo because they show a lot of potential for the game and so it will be good to have them as part of the Goshawks side.
"But the Cheetahs will obviously have most of the core players who include Wes Mbanje, Manasha Sita, Scotty Johns and we have also called back Tafadzwa Chitokwindo," said Hobson.
The Cheetahs will also not be travelling alone to Morocco, as the tournament in Rabat will also see the Zimbabwe women's team competing for a place in the women's tournament in Moscow.
Hobson, however, is confident his charges will be up to the challenge when they travel to North Africa and their main aim is not only to qualify for the World Cup, but doing so by winning the tournament.
Teams from Europe, Oceania and North America/Caribbean have already participated in their regional qualifying tournaments, meaning there are just six places remaining.
From Africa, South Africa and Kenya have already qualified for next year's tournament in Russia's capital Moscow and Zimbabwe are favourites to take one of the two additional places to represent Africa.
"I am sure we will do well in Morocco because we are ranked the highest there so we have to retain that top team tag and we would love to qualify for the World Cup by winning the qualifiers.
"If we play to the best of our abilities we will be able to conquer," said Hobson.
Drawn in Pool B of the two day event, the Cheetahs will take on Tunisia, Namibia and Cote d'Ivoire before the knockout stages take place on the second day.
Zimbabwe are expected to come out on top but will head to the Middelburg Sevens first to gain some momentum ahead of the qualifiers in Rabat on September 29-30.
"It's an important part of our preparations.
"We know our performance there is going to have an impact on the way we will play in Morocco so we are taking it very seriously," added Hobson.
Fortune Chipendu, Jacques Leitao (captain), Njabulo Ndlovu, Justin Coles, Graham Kaulback, Kelvin Magunje, Daniel Hondo, Gerald Sibanda, Tangai Nemadire, Jonathan Mcwade, Wesley Mbanje, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Lenience Tambwera, Steven Hunduza, Scotty Jones.