Junior rugby laying foundations in Zimbabwe

(IRB.COM) Friday 6 August 2010
 
 Junior rugby laying foundations in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe drew with eventual runners-up Japan at this year's IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy

Age Grade rugby is fast improving in Zimbabwe, most recently demonstrated by Brighton Chivandire's side beating Namibia 29-15 in Abidjan to win the Africa Under 19 title to qualify for next year's IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy (JWRT).

Having participated in the JWRT in Moscow earlier this year - the first Age Grade tournament Zimbabwe had been involved in since the IRB Under 19 Championship in Belfast in 2007 - gaining a place at a second successive world tournament demonstrates how rugby is heading in the right direction in Zimbabwe.

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"It is an exciting moment for Zimbabwe, it is proof that rugby is alive in Zimbabwe and that the development programmes are working," Chivandire told Total Rugby Radio this week.

"It was our target to go to the JWRT every year for at least the next five years and I think we are on course. Zimbabwean rugby can really grow and we can only get better.

"We competed in Moscow in June and now we are going to the 2011 Trophy where we are hoping to improve. Our target this time is to finish in the top four."

With one win, one draw and two losses in Moscow, Zimbabwe finished seventh at this year's tournament, but the draw was impressive, coming against eventual runners-up, Japan.

If Chivandire's side continues to improve, the outlook will also continue to brighten for the senior national side after coming through a difficult decade.

"We have this focus that Zimbabwe needs to get back to a level that we used to be at. We used to compete at the highest levels," explained Chivandire.

Competition in Africa toughens

"We have set our target that the Under 19s do well consistently at least for the next five years to build a foundation for our senior side and all our players understand that it is a breeding ground for talent for our national senior side."

South Africa are the predominant force in African rugby but Kenya continue to make an impact on the IRB Sevens World Series, whilst Namibia qualified for their fourth consecutive Rugby World Cup in 2011 and also won this year's IRB Nations Cup.

With the IRB putting resources into developing rugby on the continent, the quality of competition is growing and, according to Chivandire, it is not just Zimbabwe who are becoming stronger.

"Rugby at this level in Africa in general is very high. The level of competition is very high with all the teams improving each year," he added.

"I think the IRB putting a lot of resources into developing rugby in Africa has worked technically. Coaches are being trained, they are getting better and getting more exposure and technically the players are also getting better and can now compete anywhere in the world.

"Uganda have a specialist coach to help with their forwards and they have improved a lot. Kenya are getting bigger because they are doing well in Sevens and they use that encouragement and that push and drive to get all the teams to do well.

Natural progression

"The Tunisians played well this year, they came third and gave Namibia a run for their money, which wouldn't have happened in other tournaments."

For Zimbabwe another crack at the Junior World Rugby Trophy next year will be made easier by the fact that, as an Under 20 competition, the majority of this squad will remain intact.

For many of the players, progression to the senior side is the incentive and the Zimbabwe Rugby Union will hope that a successful Age Grade programme will provide a platform for years to come.

Zimbabwe's national side recently qualified for the finals tournament of the CAR Africa Cup after beating Madagascar 28-22 to win Pool C, but much still needs to be done.

"Generally our weaknesses are to do with our size and conditioning," admitted Chivandire. "We struggle for resources in this country so our conditioning programmes are not backed by resourcing and naturally our size is an issue.

"Our strengths comes from our talent and flair. We have quicker boys than other unions so that is where our strength comes from - natural talent and speed. And everytime we play, we play as a team."

Video - Japan v Zimbabwe JWRT