By Lenin Ndebele
BULAWAYO- ZIMBABWEAN rugby was in very good health when it used to be part of the South African domestic system.
For many years before Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe, or Southern Rhodesia, as it was called then, fielded a side in the B Division of the Currie Cup – South Africa’s premier domestic competition.
Because of South Africa’s superior facilities and resources, Zimbabwean players who stayed in the country (as opposed to being picked for the Springboks), were markedly well-developed and better conditioned, one of the reasons Zimbabwe became a continental powerhouse in the sport.
But due to a changed political landscape, Zimbabwe as a rugby nation weaned itself off South Africa – and the game across the Limpopo River has never been the same ever since.
Of course, other factors – the economic, political and institutional crisis of the country – have taken greater toll on rugby in Zimbabwe.
Years later, South Africa is back trying to help out its northern neighbour, this time at a much lower level, but no less important to the development of rugby players.
Zimbabwe and Namibia, South Africa’s professional rugby playing neighbours, have been incorporated in the SARU Gold Cup, South Africa’s national club championship.
The champions of Zimbabwe and Namibia will be in the draw with the winners of South Africa’s 14 provincial unions in the Gold Cup.
This season, Zimbabwe are being represented by Harare-based Old Georgians, a club which has defied the economic hardships to run in a professional manner.
Old Georgians is an important entity in Zimbabwean rugby. Traditionally, it draws its players from the country’s social elite, but lately it has taken on board young, talented black players from the townships.
At OGs, the youngsters become exposed to advanced training and coaching in addition to job opportunities at companies run or owned by club members and sponsors.
Old Georgians are already in a place authorities in Zimbabwean rugby want other clubs in the country to be, and the Gold Cup is a vehicle towards that.
“By playing in the Gold Cup, we’ll motivate more clubs to put in structures and recruit players so that they also challenge for top honours to have an opportunity to play at the highest level,” says Zimbabwe Rugby Union vice president, Noddy Kanyangarara.
“I believe that soon, we’ll see a revival of our club and league structures which will in turn help our national team because we will have a competitive and stronger league and club structures and more players exposed at the highest level.”
Kanyangarara adds that the ZRU is also currently engaging SARU to have Zimbabwean administrators integrated into the South African system as a part of a training course.
On the field of play, Old Georgians have not done badly at all so far in the Gold Cup. They beat White River 20-18 in Mpumalanga, South Africa, in their opening game of the 2016 Gold Cup season before narrowly losing 25-38 to False Bay at home in Harare last weekend.
“The level of play is fairly high but not as high as we had expected,” says Kanyangarara. “Or maybe we’re not as bad as we thought.”