By Tadious Manyepo
AFRICA Sevens Rugby national teams have been presented with a chance to gauge their strength ahead of the Hong Kong Series when they meet one of the world’s fast growing teams in the circuit, Georgia, in the precursory Harare International 7s next month.
The two-day high-profile Hong Kong 7s is scheduled to begin on April 5.
But, before heading to the more demanding series, African teams will face-off in the annual tournament in Harare to be held from 23 to 24 March, in preparation for the hefty Hong Kong contest.
This year, the continental Sevens heavyweights will get a glimpse of what to expect in Hong Kong after Georgia confirmed their participation in Zimbabwe’s capital.
Though not yet a “core member” of the world Sevens Series, it will be advantageous for African teams to meet Georgia without much pressure before plunging into blood-and-thunder Hong Kong league.
Nicknamed The Lelos, the Georgians play every summer in the Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series and will bring a lot in terms of competitive edge to the tournament.
The event is now in its third year though the previous two editions were staged in the resort town of Victoria Falls.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union this time around resolved to take the event to the capital for convenience’s sake.
Defending champions Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana have already notified the hosts of their availability with Swaziland, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique among others, all expected to confirm in the coming days.
ZRU president Aaron Jani said his union was committed to bringing more competition to the tournament by inviting top-of-the-shelf teams to help African sides grow.
“As the ZRU, we have decided to move the annual International 7s from Victoria Falls to Harare due to some pressing logistical issues. We also ought to spread the international event throughout the country. That is why we have taken this year’s edition of the tournament to the capital Harare,” said Jani.
“I can also confirm that Georgia will be participating at the event this year. This tournament’s primary objective is to help prepare African teams for the year.
“Teams will be fighting on different fronts and the Hong Kong series comes immediately after the Zimbabwe tournament. So, basically that’s the primary objective of this event.
“It’s encouraging to see some global powerhouses like Georgia expressing their willingness to be part and parcel of this event. It shows that we are growing and by so doing African teams will be exposed to better competition which will in turn help them improve in international outings.”
Zimbabwe’s Cheetahs have already intensified preparations ahead of the March event as they have their sights fixed on wrapping the series after falling 5-10 to Kenya in the final last year.
They had won the inaugural edition in 2017.
Last year, the hosts fielded three teams, the Cheetahs, Goshawks and the Zambezi Steelers as they sought to broaden national 7s coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba’s selection base.
The Cheetahs then went on to win the Africa Cup and Jani hinted they might field the three teams again since the team will be fighting on several fronts this year.