The Herald (Harare)

23 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Cheetahs in Tough Tournament

CHEETAHS' captain, Jacques Leitao, believes the Zimbabwe Sevens side is going to have a difficult challenge at the Hong Kong tournament following a draw that was conducted on Thursday. This competition will be used as the first leg of qualification for the International Rugby Board Sevens core-membership and is set for the end of March in the Asian country.

The 12-team second tier competition sees Zimbabwe drawn in Pool G together with Russia, Cook Islands and Mexico and it is the top four teams from the pre-qualifier that will go on to the final qualifiers in Europe.

The four teams will join Hong Kong and the three bottom-placed World Series teams after round eight in Glasgow in an eight-team competition at the Marriott London Sevens in May to decide promotion to the 2014 Series.

However, Leitao feels that there is a lot of work to be done if they are to make it as a core member.

"It's a tough pool but I am confident we can top it and show that Zimbabwe Sevens should be a core team but the Cook Islands are more inexperienced side in terms of IRB tournaments and certainly bring island flair to the game..

"Russia are a strong outfit and with them hosting the World Cup this year I'm sure a lot of emphasis is being put on their national side, so they will be tough to overcome.

"I am not sure what to expect from Mexico but we can't underestimate any team but I would believe that Tonga and Japan will also give us stiff competition if we are to meet them in the knock out stages," said Leitao.

Last year Zimbabwe failed to make it for the core membership after they lost to Portugal in the qualifier semi-final and this year they have another chance to prove their capabilities and become a core member.

South Africa and Kenya are the only two African countries that have managed to get core membership status and if Zimbabwe make it, they will become the third African nation to do so.

Leitao, however, feels that they drew a number of lessons from their failure to make it for core membership last year.

"The biggest lesson we learnt from last year was playing accurate rugby. If we don't score when opportunities present themselves (to us, then) it is hard to win games.

"So huge emphasis has been put on that as well as conditioning to ensure we win the close games.

"Best way is to play competitive Sevens which is what will happen over the next three weekends with the two provincial tournaments and the Spar Zimbabwe international tournament.

"The high performance centre trainings have been very important to condition players to a level where we can compete against the best teams on the stage," said the Old Georgians forward.

The Sables flanker added that the Cheetahs should have self belief, work hard and improve on the skills they already have to perform against the big opponents as the pressure from the fans should motivate them.

"The pressure we get from the fans can be used as good motivation for us to do well on any stage we find ourselves playing on.

"When we go out onto the field we know we carry the nation on our shoulders and when we don't perform to our best it adds to the pressure.

"We strive to play our best rugby and the coaches try to achieve the best combinations in every tournament, and I thank the fans for their support," said Leitao.

Hong Kong Draw

Pool A: South Africa, Wales, Argentina, Australia.

Pool B: New Zealand,United States, France, Kenya.

Pool C: Samoa, England, Scotland, Portugal.

Pool D: Canada, Fiji, Spain, Hong Kong

Pool E: Tonga, South America 1, Tunisia, Chinese Taipei

Pool F: Japan, Georgia, South America 2, Jamaica

Pool G: Russia, Zimbabwe, Cook Islands and Mexico

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