1 September 2013

Zimbabwe: Hobson - the Gentle Giant of Zim Rugby

JUDGING from his two monikers, "Shark" and "Uncle" pronounced Ankele, outgoing Famous Grouse Zimbabwe Sevens team manager and Africa's longest rugby servant Bruce Hobson, seemingly lives two lives.

To some people, the 51-year old athlete is a bully. Hobson, who started his romance with the oval shaped ball at the age of nine at Bulawayo's Khumalo Junior School, is ruthless in demanding results from the players and subordinates alike.

It is that meanness that earned him his respect in rugby circles, hence the nickname "Shark".

A shark is known for its predatory instincts. However, others find warmth in his presence and refer to him as "Uncle".

"He was and remains a father figure to us, who had a great understanding with the players. He can also be tough at times," said former Cheetahs player Donald Mangenje who is now the Sevens brand committee chairperson.

Since taking over as the Zimbabwe Cheetahs manager in 2003, Hobson has taken the team to 29 International Rugby Boards Tournaments, two Rugby World Cups, including the recent one held in Moscow, Russia this year and three Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

This is in addition to the Confederation of Africa Rugby Champions which the Zimbabwe Cheetahs have won a couple of times, the Castle Sevens Tournament Champions (five times), the Spar Sevens International tournament in 2012, Annual National Sports Awards Team of The Year and also Administrator of the Year among a host of accolades.

Hobson has also served rugby in almost every capacity ranging from player, club captain and chairman at Old Hararians, and also as an executive member of the Mashonaland Board and then later as the president and chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Ruby Union (ZRU).

Hobson, who coincidentally supports South African rugby side Natal Sharks, has also managed the country's flagship team, the Sables, Zimbabwe Under-21 and the second tier national Sevens rugby team the Goshawks.

Many are still wondering whether the loss of his wife Caroline in May this year may have precipitated his departure from the sport, which he has served for such a long time.

"I made a decision to retire from the game a year ago because I was not giving my family enough time, and my business was collapsing. I made a promise to my family that I would retire just after the World Cup in Russia and had to honour that promise. I am now actively involved in raising my three boys Robby (24), Brett (22) and Quinton (18)," he said.

Hobson, who runs an electronic shop at Sam Levy Village, added; "However, throughout the years my family has been supportive and my late wife Caroline did some of the organising for the Zimbabwe Cheetahs. I suffered a body blow when she passed on, but had already made the decision to retire."

Though Hobson said he does not live by regrets, the Famous Grouse Zimbabwe Cheetahs' failure to attain core status still pains him.

"I would have wanted us to attaining core status, but everything is a process. I am proudly Zimbabwean and everyone in the world knows what the Zimbabwe Cheetahs are capable of doing. I remember when we started rebuilding the team with other guys such as John Ewing and Liam Middleton starting from scratch," said Hobson.

"I have worked with brilliant players along the way such as Tangai Nemadire, Fortune Chipendu, Wesley Mbanje and Jac-ques Leitao along the way."

Hobson's advice to incoming candidate

Hobson warned the incoming Sevens team manager of the pitfalls ahead.

"He or she should be aware of criticism, because there is plenty of it in Zimbabwe. However, he or she should not lose focus," he said.

However, Hobson has his own critics who believe that he is headstrong and always wants his ideas to carry the day.

Some point to his holding of three positions; namely the ZRU presidency, acting chief executive officer and Sevens team manager all at one time as being power hungry.

But to others, this shows a perpetual devotion to the game. It is this preparedness to help the sport, even during the tough economic times when others were jumping ship that helped him gain admirers. Berth Coalter, IRB Sevens manager said of hearing the news of his retirement; "It is sad for African Rugby that two very strong supporters, who just focussed on getting the boys to play to the best of their ability, are lost to the game. Thank you Bruce for all the time and effort you have put into the game."

Away from rugby and the electronic retail shop, Hobson and his family enjoys the warmth of the Zambezi river while fishing and boating.

"I just enjoy the beauty of the Zambezi area. Zimbabwe is beautiful," he said.

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