HARARE – TJ Maguranyanga, the France-based utility back, is one of foreign-based stars lined up to boost Zimbabwe’s rugby squad for July’s make-or-break Africa Cup tournament in Uganda.

The 21-year-old speedster, who plays for French Top 14 club ASM Clermont Auvergne mainly at fullback, has not yet been capped by Zimbabwe at senior level.

Maguranyanga arrived in Zimbabwe last week to join the country’s Sevens team that is in camp ahead of the shorter version’s own Africa Cup in Mauritius next week.

Zimbabwe’s XVs coach Piet Benade, speaking on Sunday after his team’s 22-17 win over Zambia in a friendly tie in Lusaka the previous day, said Maguranyanga will link up with the Sables after the Sevens tournament.

“We would have brought him along to Zambia but we rather let the Sevens prepare with him,” Benade told SportsCast.

“If he looks good and is good to go after Sevens, we will look to include him in the Africa Cup squad for 15s.”

Benade was impressed by the largely local-based side he took to Lusaka, but the former Western Province fly-half admitted the team will require reinforcements “in most areas” for the Uganda trip.

“We have a few locally-based players putting up their hands to challenge for spots in July, and that is a the positive thing about these regional games,” he said.

“We are now able to identify who can cope and also build depth for the future by making local-based players take responsibility for these performances and results. We have a few old heads playing and a nice group of young men finding their way into senior men rugby. In Uganda for the Africa Cup we will likely be bringing in a few of our foreign-based players  to add quality to compete against the likes of Uganda as well as Kenya and Namibia.”

The Sables needed to dig deep on Saturday to defeat a vastly improving Zambian side, with veteran scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki coming on in the second half to score the winning try in a tightly-contested match.

Left out of the starting line-up, Mudariki had to relinquish the Sables’ captaincy to centre Kudzi Mashawi. But the 32-year-old’s impact off the bench, and the starting scrumhalf Keegan Joubert’s noteworthy performance, left Benade with a positive headache.

“We gave a young 9 a run yesterday and it was a good exercise,” said Benade. “But Hilton came on and added value still, scoring the match-winning try.”

The eight-team Africa Cup will be played between 20 and 28 July in  Kampala. Only the top four sides will progress to next year’s final phase of World Cup qualifiers, giving extra incentive to the tournament.


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