Zimbabwe scored four second half tries to come from behind and record a 31-22 victory over Madagascar on the opening day of the CAR (Confederation of African Rugby) Southern Trophy in Gaborone, Botswana, on Monday.
The hosts and Mauritius also enjoyed victories at the University of Botswana on day one, Botswana overcoming Zambia 16-10 and Mauritius edged a tight encounter with Réunion.
The six teams have been split into two pools with Madagascar, Botswana and Mauritius in Pool A and Zimbabwe, Zambia and Réunion in Pool B with matches played across them to determine the final rankings.
Madagascar had led 10-3 after 22 minutes in the tournament's first match, but the Zimbabweans, ranked nine places below their opponents in the IRB World Rankings, scored 23 unanswered points to turn the match on its head.
The deficit was cut to 26-17, but replacement Pieter Joubert's try on the hour mark re-established Zimbabwe's advantage and despite centre Rija Rakotoarimanana completing his hat-trick in the dying minutes it was no more than a consolation try.
Tense finale for Mauritius
Botswana also had to come from behind to triumph, Edward Oosthuizen kicking penalties to cancel out Alex Mulega's try for Zambia and send the hosts in leading 9-7 at half time.
Replacement Corrie Bekker crossed for the only try of the second half to increase that advantage with Zambia, ranked two places above Botswana at 73rd, only able to manage one penalty in the last quarter of the match.
The final match on day one was an equally tight affair with Mauritius scoring a sixth minute try through number 9 Herbert Couacaud, but they were unable to add to that and went in leading 7-3 at the interval.
Mauritius increased that advantage within minutes of the restart with a penalty, before Jeremy Orelli replied with his own kick to cut the deficit to four again with 26 minutes remaining.
Nearly 20 of those minutes had passed before Orelli kicked a second penalty to bring Réunion to within a point, but it was Mauritius who survived a nervous finish to emerge the victors 10-9.
The tournament continues on Wednesday when Botswana face Réunion, Mauritius tackle Zimbabwe and Madagascar take on Zambia at the University of Botswana. The Trophy then concludes on Saturday with Madagascar v Réunion, Mauritius v Zambia and Botswana v Zimbabwe.
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