Zimbabwe's RWC 2015 goal
Zimbabwe's 49-21 victory against Uganda in Bulawayo in the Victoria Cup last weekend capped a successful few weeks for the African side with a climb to a new high of 39th in the IRB World Rankings.
A fourth win in the last month has lifted them nine places and into the top 40 nations for the first time, a sign that things are beginning to change with rugby in Zimbabwe only now starting to re-establish itself after it tailed off over two decades in parallel with the country's social and economic woes.
Back in 1991 Zimbabwe went to the second Rugby World Cup ranked number two in Africa behind only the Springboks but 20 years later can only watch on as the current generation bids to make up for lost time.
"You must realise that in our situation change is a process not a result and it's going to take a while for things to sort themselves out," said the CEO of Zimbabwe Rugby, Grant Mitchell.
"If you look at our Under 19 and 20 sides, they effectively have been our most successful age grade brand for the last three to five years and our national Sevens have done well in terms of the World Series and achieving success at the 2009 World Cup and it's time for our national 15s to start achieving results."
Bridging the gap
Until recently, many of Zimbabwe's brightest talents were venturing elsewhere to ply their trade. But that player drain has become more of a trickle with the advent of events like the Cottco Rugby Festival organised by Sebastian Karika.
"What we need to do is to bridge the gap. We are doing the development work at the bottom and in the schools, now we need to bridge the gap between the league, the senior national team and the schools," said Karikai.
"People here are very passionate about the game, they don't really have to wait for the monies to coming in to produce this thing, what we try and do is run development through and through whether there are resources or no resources. As long as you have the players, you get it going."
The festival is a major boost for the country's Under 20 coach Brighton Chevandire who took his side to the recent IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Georgia, and Hilton Mudariki one of many players benefiting from the infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
"This is where it all started, the grassroots, growing up in Zimbabwe playing rugby. This is basically where I started my journey as a rugby player. I think I owe something to Zimbabwe," said Mudariki.
"We've got a lot of talent coming through and what we do is go there, we sit, we identify players at an early age and we put them through a system that works for us that is our school system," added Chivandire.
Given its Rugby World Cup pedigree, a strong Zimbabwe is vitally important for the growth and competitiveness of Rugby in Africa, and one man with more than a passing interest is the IRB's Regional Development Manager, Cliffie Booysen.
"If you look at what's going on here at grassroots level and it this can be emulated at senior level, Zimbabwean Rugby will be a force to be reckoned with not only in Africa, but throughout the world," said Booysen.
"I think if these guys can continue what they are doing here and make sure that the talent that they pick up can be properly nurtured and bring them up through the ranks and into the senior ranks, Zimbawean Rugby will back to where it belongs."
And four wins over the last month have gone a long way to achieving this, with Zimbabwe rising 9 places in the IRB World Rankings to 39th - their first time in the world's top 40 - which are encouraging signs for union president Themba Sibanda.
"We are in great shape at the moment, we are looking good at all levels. You can see here that the schools are vibrant, our women's team is coming up, our Sevens national team is traveling and competing in three IRB tournaments over the year and our 15s have started playing games again so it is vibrant at the moment and we're looking strong," aded Sibanda.
"We can get there and I think we're aiming to play in the World Cup in 2015 and I think we've got the talent and we just have to put the plans in place to make sure we get there."
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