Cheetahs defy the odds

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Cheetahs celebrate after winning the Rugby Africa Sevens

Chipo Sabeta and Jeff Murimbechi
When the final whistle blew to end two days of gruelling Tunisian heat, sweat, stretched muscles and a plethora of body niggles that the team physiotherapist will have to deal with – history had been made.Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Cheetahs were crowned the 2018 Africa Cup Sevens rugby champions.

The media in Africa was abuzz: Congrats to the Cheetahs who have just won the Rugby Africa Sevens.

They had beaten Kenya 17 -5 in the final in the Tunisian city of Monastir and it’s the 3rd Rugby Africa 7s title for Zimbabwe.

This massive feat means the Cheetahs have qualified for the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and an array of invitational tournaments such as the Dubai Sevens (the latter at which they finished as runners-up in a heart breaking loss to Uganda, giving them a chance to take part in the 2018 Rugby Sevens World Cup in San Francisco).

The Zimbabwe national Sevens rugby team managed to overcome a combination of challenges, including poor preparations.

They went to Tunisia without holding a training camp and missing the services of several key players but went on to win their first Africa Men’s Sevens title in six years following a shock 17-5 victory over continental heavyweights Kenya.

To add further weight to the stunning victory, Zimbabwe had not only dethroned Uganda who had been at the helm of the competition for the last three years but they did it in emphatic style, thumping HSCBC World Circuit regulars Kenya 17-5 in the final.

The Cheetahs produced one of their finest performances in recent years against the higher ranked Kenyans who are regular participants on the HSBC World Sevens Series to win their first African title since 2012 and third overall since 2000.

It was a collective of several team processes that were refined and well-executed over time, but it was not flawless and neither was it an easy journey.

Zimbabwe’s technical team has over time perfected the team’s defence, beefed up strength, conditioning and team chemistry.

Combinations build through camaraderie on and off the field made them a ballistic force.

But the bigger story is the build-up towards the great victory, which chronicles of how the tournament went down are well documented and it seems the guys knew that this was time to get some silverware.

Having finished at 23 out of 24 in the World Cup, added to a disappointing third place finish by Zimbabwe’s developing side – the Goshawks – in the 2018 Zambia Sevens tournament, a few losses at the Hong Kong Sevens in April and a finals berth in the Roma International Sevens Tournament, one would have called for a total overhaul of the whole team structure.

Fast forward to last weekend, all this ‘‘failure’’ and that of many years previously can be quickly forgotten as the founding principles of the team have finally paid dividends.

The Cheetahs have always been a group of tiny, super strong fast men. They have also been crazy and fun-loving guys who will add a rumba “sebene” dance routine to every practice session and as seen in Tunisia . . . it is now a before and after match routine.

Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba has also been very patient and steadfast with his charges, surviving several back door attempts to oust him from the job over bad results, but he still believed in his team.

This new piece of silverware proves that Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry’s drive to have former players running sports teams and structures pays off. The Zimbabwe Rugby Union is headed by a former national team player Aaron Jani, Nyamutsamba is a former player, technical team members Donald ‘‘Brasco’’ Mangenje, Gerald Sibanda, Tangai Nemadire who are former Cheetah and an experienced team manager in Simbabrashe Dangah.

But who are these Zambezi Cheetahs and why did they finally get things right, is the biggest question.

Led by Stephan Hunduza, a pint-sized speedster from Mbare, this group of mostly amateur rugby players is a team comprising of over 30 Zimbabwean players from all over the world. The 12 that sealed the deal last weekend were the best possible selection for the conditions and strategy of running and out-skilling everyone.

Stars like Shingirai Katsvere, Speedster Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Takudzwa Kumadiro stamped their authority. That was despite being a man down after an early yellow card to scrum-half Tarisai Mugariri.

The future of sevens in Zimbabwean rugby looks brighter.

Hopefully they will get as much financial support as the Sables and more we will see more of their crazy dances attached to more championships.

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