THE Sables are hoping for a change of fortunes when they clash against Namibia in the opening game of the Windhoek Lager Tri-Nations invitational tournament at the Hage Geingob National Rugby Stadium in Windhoek this afternoon. The last time the two sides met was in 2008 at the same venue with Zimbabwe going down 21-35 in an Africa Cup qualifier making it their ninth defeat in the past 10 meetings.
Pieter Joubert, Fortune Chipendu, Danny Robertson, Wes Mbanje, Gardiner Nechironga and Costa Dinha are the only surviving members from the Class of 2008.
Robertson was unable to play after falling ill while Chipendu was substituted in the first minute due to injury.
In total, the sides have met 23 times and Zimbabwe have walked away winners only on three occasions with a 27-26 win at home in 2001 which translates to a 15 percent failure rate against their rivals.
Just these figures alone are good enough to show the difference between these two sides, and it is this record that the current crop of players want to improve on and gain full respect as African champions.
A win here would ensure that the Sables move up on the International Rugby Board rankings.
Zimbabwe have balanced side for the opening game that has a fair mixture of youth and experience in the forwards where prop Tapiwa Mangezi, hooker Royal Mwale, flanker and Forward-of-the-Year Biselele Tshamala and lock Lucky Sithole are uncapped.
Prop Joubert, locks Dinha and Jan Ferreira, and loose forward Takunda Chifokoyo will provide experience in the pack as they were part of the side that lifted the Africa Cup in July.
There, however, is wealth of experience in the backline with Scotty Jones at scrum half, Tangai Nemadire, Wes Mbanje and Gardner Nechironga coming in as the back three while Tich Makwanya, Robertson and Player-of-the-Year Daniel Hondo hold fort in the midfield.
Coach Cyprian "Supa" Mandenge believes the side will stand up to the challenge.
"Namibia are our biggest target because they are one of the teams we are fighting against for the World Cup ticket and this is going to be a good test for us so that we know what we have to work on in the build-up to the World Cup qualifiers.
"We have what it takes to win the game because all the players I have are here on merit, we are all focused on the game and we have to be positive so that we build on the momentum we have set over the past two years.
"We have brilliant players and not having the foreign based players is going to test our depth and this could be the perfect chance for other players that have been waiting on the wings to prove themselves," said the former Harare Sport Club and University of Zimbabwe coach.
But Namibia assistant coach Jood Opperman believes he has a good side.
"This is the strongest possible group we could select, because we want to give our best performance at this tournament and measure ourselves against the 2012 African champions Zimbabwe.
"This will give us a very good indication of where we are currently and what we need to focus on for the next eight months to ensure that we win the CAR 1B tournament in July 2013," said the Under-20 coach.
The Biltongboere have also named a young and inexperienced side for the tournament as they are missing some of their senior and professional players.
Like Zimbabwe, Namibia have a weakened forward pack with only Van Lill, prop Johnny Redelinghuys and flanker Renaud van Neel remaining from the World Cup squad.
Forwards like Jacques Burger, Rohan Kitshoff and Morné Blom were not available due to injury and club commitments, while Namibia suffered a further setback when lock Nico Esterhuizen suffered an injury during camp.
Former Zimbabwe Young Sables lock Tshamala is looking forward to the challenge.
"It feels good that I have joined some of the top players who were part of our junior side and I am looking forward to my first cap in the green and white stripped jersey. I knew from the time I as called into camp that I had a chance and I feel my efforts have been recognised," said Tshamala.
Match Day 22
1-8: Tapiwa Mangezi, Royal Mwale, Pieter Joubert, Costa Dinha (captian), Jan Ferreira, Biselele Tshamala, Lucky Sithole, Takunda Chifokoyo.
15-9: Tangai Nemadire, Wes Mbanje, Danny Robertson, Daniel Hondo, Garnder Nechironga, Tichafara Makwanya, Scotty Jones.
16-22: Tino Chikobvu, Vakai Hove, Fortune Chipendo, Samson Makuku, Linience Tambwera, Shayne Makombe, Philmon Machisa.
1-8: Johnny Redelinghuys, Rathony Bekker, Andre Schlechter, Muinjo Kasaringwa, Stefan Neustadt, Renaud van Neel, Munee Tjuiza, PJ Van Lill (captain), .
15-9: Justin Nel, Johan Tromp, Danie van Wyk, Darryl de la Harpe (captain), Chrysander Botha, Theuns Kotze, Eugene Jantjies.
16-22: Collen Smith, Hannes Dursewei, Stef Botha, Victor Rodrigues, Arthur Bouwer, Sergio de la Harpe, Desmond Snyders.