Zim U18 team primed for Craven Week

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SPORT - Jef­frey Murim­bechi

THE Zim­babwe Un­der-18 Girls rugby na­tional team is tar­get­ing a more ro­bust show­ing at this year’s Craven Week Tour­na­ment, sched­uled for HT Pe­la­tona Projects Sta­dium in South Africa.

The tour­na­ment, slated for July 3-7, is ex­pected to at­tract 16 teams from South African and Zim­babwe.

Head coach Nsikelelo Sibanda has the odds in his favour, as his charges have been on an up­ward tra­jec­tory since first en­ter­ing the tour­na­ment in 2015.

In their de­but cam­paign, Zim­babwe fin­ished fourth out of 16 teams, and im­proved to third last year. A larger player base and im­proved player re­ten­tion look to be Sibanda’s se­cret weapons as he looks to con­tinue with the rise.

“Our op­tions were very wide and it was ac­tu­ally dif­fi­cult to pick a side,” said Sibanda. “We had sev­eral op­tions to pick a side and we looked all over the coun­try. The lim­it­ing fac­tor was doc­u­ments, as most of the girls did not have trav­el­ling doc­u­ments, so we did not get what we re­ally wanted.”

This year’s squad has re­tained nine play­ers who fea­tured in the 2016 tour­na­ment, much bet­ter than the two who played in both 2015 and the sub­se­quent edi­tion. Lo­cal leagues and tour­na­ments have aided in match fit­ness, and the pro­vi­sional squad started prepa­ra­tions as far back as the Easter hol­i­days.

Some of the key play­ers to look out for in­clude Tr­ish Ng­wiring­wiri, Leanne Max and Debby Mutepuka.

The tour­na­ment runs con­cur­rently with the Un­der-13 girls’ event, where Zim­babwe will also be rep­re­sented.

South Africa Rugby CEO Jurie Roux hopes to in­crease the fol­low­er­ship and spec­ta­tor value at this year’s tour­na­ment.

“We hope to align the Un­der16 and Un­der-18 Na­tional Girls Weeks as well next year, in our bid to boost these tour­na­ments. This tweak will re­sult in three con­sec­u­tive fes­ti­vals of rugby next sea­son, which will be equally ex­cit­ing for SA Rugby, the play­ers and spec­ta­tors alike,” he said.

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