ZIMBABWE have been dealt a blow to their preparations for their must-win Rugby Africa Gold Cup clash against Uganda in Kampala on Saturday, with the Mudariki brothers Hilton and Farai ruled out of the showdown.
The Sables left Harare at midday yesterday for the match they will have to win at all costs if they are to harbour any thoughts of preserving their status in the elite Gold Cup.
But the Mudariki brothers of scrumhalf Hilton and prop Farai were conspicuous by their absence as Peter De Villiers and his men boarded a Kenya Airways flight for what has suddenly become the most important assignment of their doomed campaign.
Club commitments in the United Kingdom have robbed the Sables of an opportunity to call on the talents and grit of the Mudariki brothers.
Zimbabwe have already had to grapple with the disappointment of the Sables failure to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
After the World Cup dream went up in flames, the Sables must now fight tooth and nail to preserve their Gold Cup status as their winless run from four Tests have left them precariously sitting second from bottom on the six-team log table.
Their three points were earned from a 23-23 home draw against bottom-of-the-pile Morocco on June 16 and the bonus point eked out of a battling 58-28 defeat by Namibia at Hartsfield on August 4.
Ironically, the Sables have conspired to disappoint the nation in an otherwise refreshing year when sponsorship deals that had become a rarity have come their way and came in big.
A period when their welfare has been so catered for, they have not had to worry whether they would be able to fulfil their next fixture.
But just when they needed every arsenal they could have for this massive assignment, the Sables will now have to make do without Hilton and Farai Mudariki.
While scrumhalf Hilton has missed some of the games in this campaign, his young brother Farai has been an integral part of the Sables forward pack and will no doubt be a huge missing link in Kampala.
Sables team manager Derek Chiwara acknowledged as much shortly before the squad's departure yesterday, but insisted that Lawrence Cleminson, who has been thrust into position will be an adequate replacement.
Cleminson has been a part of the Sables party, but has had to contend with a place on the replacements bench.
Chiwara also revealed that the Sables had failed in their bid to secure the release of South Africa-based flanker Michael Botha from his club.
"Farai and Hilton have club commitments in England. Botha also had club commitments which affected his early release from camp.
"Farai's absence will be felt. However, his replacements have prepared fully and are ready and set to step into his shoes and fit them well
"Preparations have been on track, the team worked extremely hard and raised the intensity. The coaches really pushed the boys and the team responded well and showed their desire to go out and deliver a good result," Chiwara said.
Both Hilton and Farai are also new players at their respective clubs, with the scrumhalf having joined English Championship side Jersey Reds in June, while the later secured his move at the start of last month.
Hilton's move to Jersey Reds also meant that he missed the Cheetahs' Sevens World Cup adventure in San Francisco after coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba elected to afford him a chance to settle down at the club he had just joined and left him from the side that travelled to the United States.
English club Worcester announced that they had made the prop their 11th signing for the 2018-19 season, with Farai arriving from French side Stado Tarbes Pyrenees.
But the club then agreed that the 23 year-old forward could arrive at Sixways this month after he had fulfilled his World Cup qualifying duties with the national team.
The Sables had also been hoping that Botha would bring some more grit to their pack, but efforts to secure the flanker came to nought.
Zimbabwe will also be hoping that the pair of flyhalf Brendon Mandivenga and centre Kudzai Mashawi, who were nursing injuries from knocks received in the game against Namibia, would have fully recovered.
Mandivenga and Mashawi were also part of the travelling party yesterday.
Gold Cup fixtures:
Namibia vs Kenya: (Windhoek); Uganda vs Zimbabwe (Kampala); Tunisia vs Morocco (Tunis)