Mark Keohane, writing for The Cape Times and IOL Sport
The whimper of the past 30 years is turning into a growl. Zimbabwe, Africa’s first ever representative at a Rugby World Cup in 1987, is starting to wake – and the ambition is a first World Cup appearance since 1991.
Springbok tighthead prop Adrian Garvey, for me the best No 3 to play for the Springboks since 1992, was among those who played for Zimbabwe in the 1991 World Cup. He believes it is possible. Garvey scored a try at the 1991 World Cup in one of his 10 appearances for Zimbabwe before moving to Kwazulu-Natal and playing for the Sharks and then the Springboks.
Garvey was in Zimbabwe a week ago to promote coach Brendan Dawson’s plea to sponsors to add financial weight to the ambitions of the national team.
Another former Springbok, wing Tonderai Chavhanga, was also there. Chavhanga, who scored a record six tries for the Springboks against Uruguay is now the national team backline coach.
Former Wallabies captain David Pocock wasn’t in Zimbabwe this week, but the Zimbabwean-born Pocock has always been vocal in his admiration for the rugby talent in Zimbabwe and in his support for a Zimbabwe team good enough to make it to the World Cup.
Pocock, who played 81 Tests for the Wallabies, left Zimbabwe as a 12 year-old, and while he left with his family, his heart never left the country of his birth.
‘I have been in touch with some of the coaches involved with Zimbabwe rugby and they are really trying to get their structures in place to be able to hold talent in the country,’ Pocock recently said in a media interview.
‘Sure, you are going to lose your best overseas, but in an ideal world, they will be playing overseas and then coming back for international duties.’
It is a view shared by Garvey.
‘Let’s scout for the best Zimbabwean rugby talent, be it in Zimbabwe or those players eligible who are playing overseas,’ said Garvey. ‘There is so much passion for the game in Zimbabwe and with financial investment and quality talent identification they can build a team good enough to qualify for France 2023.’
Brendan Dawson, a veteran of the 1991 World Cup and a former captain of Zimbabwe, is the national coach, and he has made it his mission statement to get Zimbabwe to the World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years.
‘We will qualify,’ Dawson told potential investors and sponsors. ‘And we will compete at the World Cup. We won’t be a team that will just be playing. We have got immense talent within our country and abroad,’ he said in an impassioned cry for help from those with financial weight.
‘Please think about it, all of you in the corporate world, of how you can help. From donating caps to a million dollars; it all goes a long way. I said it to the players and I am saying it to those of you who love Zimbabwe, give us commitment, desire and the will to help and whatever you can to drive us forward to France 2023.’
Garvey, who was in attendance, was moved by Dawson’s emotion and passion.
‘I know his character from when we played for Zimbabwe. I know what the jersey and the country mean to him. He has my support and I hope he has the support of a hell of a lot more.’
Zimbabwe, currently are ranked a lowly 35th in the global rankings and last won the Africa Gold Cup in 2012. The Gold Cup is the premier international Tier two competition in Africa. The Springboks obviously don’t play in the Gold Cup.
But several Zimbabwean-born Springboks testify to the talent produced in Zimbabwe.
Legendary Springbok captain Gary Teichmann was born in Zimbabwe and so was Bobby Skinstad and Springboks centurion Tendai Mtawarira. The recently retired Scottish flanker David Denton is another Zimbabwean and Italy’s Sebastian Negri hails from Zimbabwe. And let’s not forget prop Brian Mujati.
Namibia, since 1991, have been the secondary African team at World Cups, but they’ve struggled and are holders of the unwanted record of losing to Australia 142-0.
Kenya have improved and Tunisia, for Tier two, are strong.
But there is so much history with Zimbabwean rugby, of which Dawson wants to remind the world.