HARARE – Zimbabwe returns to action in rugby for the first time since the disappointment of yet another failed World Cup bid, opening their Mzansi Challenge campaign against old foes Namibia at Harare Sports Club on Saturday.

As it is not Test rugby, both teams will use other names, Zimbabwe as Gowshaks, the country’s official second team and Namibia as Welwitschias, nickname of their national team.

The unsponsored and troubled Mzansi Challenge is a rebranded tournament of the Currie Cup First Division, the second tier of South Africa’s premier domestic competition. The Mzansi Challenge had been designed to have international flavour, but some of the overseas teams have pulled out of the competition citing “logistical challenges.”

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, have already forfeited points from their scheduled first three matches after indicating that they wouldn’t be able to travel to South Africa for those clashes.

“The terms of participation are such that all teams that are not South African provincial sides take care of their own costs when traveling and as such Namibia will be catering for their own costs,” a Zimbabwe Rugby Union insider told SportsCast.

“I’m informed this morning that the (Welwitschias) team landed in Harare two batches today (Thursday), the first at 1235 and the second at 1750. They will be staying at Cresta Lodge and training at Old Georgians.”

The World Cup-bound Namibians, on their part, have fulfilled all their opening three matches and lost all to Border Bulldogs, SWD Eagles and Valke.

Meanwhile, nearly all players that failed to take Zimbabwe to the World Cup have disappeared from the scene, with captain Hilton Mudariki the only one surviving member of that group in a match-day squad released to SportsCast on Thursday.

Seasoned scrumhalf Mudariki will skipper a nearly all-rookie team composed mostly of locally-based players from Old Hararians and Harare Sports Club. Mudariki doesn’t have much experienced partners in the backline but tight-head Kevin Nqindi, lock David Makamba and eighthman Tonderai Chiwambutsa provide some stability in the forwards pack gained from having had their time with the national team on separate occasions in the past.

The Namibians, captained by flank Prince Gaoseb, will strongly back themselves to pick their first win of the tournament as they look for combinations ahead of the World Cup in France in September and October.


Starting line-up: 1 – Zvikomborero Chimoto 2 – Neil Mawere 3 – Kevin Nqindi 4 – David Makamba 5 – Tadiwanashe Gwashu 6 – Simba Siraha 7 – Aaron Juma 8 – Tonderai Chiwambutsa 9 – Hilton Mudariki (captain) 10 – Takudzwa Musingwini 11 – McLean Muhambi 12 – Tamuka Pamire 13 – Russell Dinha 14 – Darrell Makwasha 15 – Cletos Sunduza.

Substitutes: 16 – Patrick Macklin 17 – Vuyiswa Mpofu 18 – Tomuvonga Masasanure 19 – Tapiwa Muberekwa 20 – Gideo Maseka 21 – Pride Nyameni 22 – Tino Chipfumba 23 – Gamu Nekati.


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