The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: High-Profile Games for Zim Sevens

THE Zimbabwe Sevens side will this year be the most active of all national rugby teams as they are set to take part in four high-profile international tournaments after hosting their own on home soil.

Their biggest assignments will be in the International Rugby Board events where they are targeting to make it as a core team having failed to do so last year and they hope to leave a mark at the World Cup in Russia at the end of June.

But first the Cheetahs are expected to host the Spar international rugby tournament where a host of high-profile, regional and local teams are set to take part in before travelling to Hong Kong for the March 22-24 tournament.

The Hong Kong leg of the World Series will be the first qualifying stage for core membership where the top four teams of the second tier competition will make it to Scotland and England for the final stage from May 4-12.

Only three teams are expected to grab the remaining three slots to complete the core members list where four of the teams that would have made it from Hong Kong, the bottom three teams from the current series and other non-core teams will battle for glory.

And the top three non-core members will join the elite group which currently only has South Africa and Kenya as the only African teams taking part in the World Series.

But first the Cheetahs will have to take part in the second edition of the Zimbabwe Spar International Rugby Tournament which is expected to lure a number of overseas, regional and local teams.

And to help them prepare for the hectic schedule ahead of them, the Sevens players have signed contracts and have already started preparing for the international scene and Cheetahs' coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba feels they will cope.

"Our target is to play and perform well in both the (World Series) qualifiers and at the World Cup. Of course, we missed on being a core member (last year) but we have another big chance in May.

"And the reasons I believe that we are going to make it is that we are going to start our preparation early because of the contracts it is actually going to be a five-onth preparation for the qualifiers and six for the World Cup," said Nyamutsamba.

The flagship team, the Sables, have the Africa Cup as their main tournament and will be travelling to Madagascar in July where they are expected to defend their title as African champions.

The Sables will take on hosts Madagascar in their opening game and the winner of this encounter will play the winner between Kenya and Uganda in the final to determine the champions.

Last year the Sables played one friendly game against South African provincial side -- the Falcons -- and three international tournaments namely the Africa Cup, the Windhoek Lager invitational in Namibia and the Emirates invitational cup in the United Arab Emirates.

They, however, failed to raise enough funds to take part in the Victoria Cup where, again, they were expected to defend their title against Kenya and Uganda, but the tournament was eventually cancelled.

This year, only the Africa Cup has been confirmed so far and the Sables will have to make sure that they, at least, finish third and remain in the top-tier if they are to entertain any hopes of making it for the 2015 England World Cup.

Group 1A is the World Cup qualifying pool and if the Sables are relegated then their dream of making it to England will be over as they will not be able to play in the qualifiers next year.

The Young Sables will also take part in the Junior Africa Cup and this will be the highlight of their international season having failed to qualify for the Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament last year following a defeat to Namibia in the Junior Africa Cup.

And, as has become a tradition, the Zimbabwe schools sides will travel to South Africa for the annual youth rugby tournaments where three of Zimbabwe's XV sides will be taking part in.

The Under-18 and Under-13 play in the Craven Week festival while the Under-16 will be taking part in the Grant Khomo Week for the second time this year.

2013 Zimbabwe Rugby Calendar

Sables: Africa Cup July 24-28 (Madagascar).

Cheetahs: Spar International; Hong Kong March 22-24; Scotland May 4-5; England May 11-12; World Cup (Russia) June 28-30.

Under-19: Africa Cup (TBA).

Under-18: Craven Week Polokwane July 7-13.

Under-16: Grant Khomo Week Vereeniging (Falcons) June 30-July 4.

Under-13: Craven Week Limpopo June 23-28.

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