Harare - For the fourth straight game since he took over as Zimbabwe coach, amid high hopes in this country, he could be the Messiah who could provide the Midas touch to take the Sables back to the Rugby World Cup, Peter de Villiers failed to inspire his troops to victory.
Of course, this was always going to be his toughest test in charge of the Sables given that his men were up against the high-flying Namibians who have been crushing everything in their path, as they continue to move closer to another dance with the game’s aristocrats at the World Cup.
Three straight wins had propelled the Namibians into a very formidable side, while striking fear into their opponents, and even the South African coach conceded, on the eve of his men’s battle against the log leaders, that their rivals were the odds-on favourites to win the match.
After all, the Zimbabweans have struggled to find the spark which many hoped De Villiers’ arrival on the scene would provide as they were held to a surprising home draw by Morocco and lost on the road against Kenya and Tunisia in that ill-fated match preceded by some off-the-field drama that made headlines around the world.
The South African coach was refreshingly honest in his pre-match rallying cry to the Zimbabweans.
“Good morning all you Zimbabwean fans,” De Villiers had posted a video message on his Twitter account on the eve of the match against the Namibians.
“I know that we couldn’t control the scoreboard up to now, we stole your hopes but I can guarantee you that although Namibia will be hot favourites tomorrow (Saturday) I can guarantee you that you will see a different Zimbabwe side.
“Come in your numbers and come and support the boys. Gold bless you.”
As expected, it was the Namibians who won the battle at Hartsfield Ground in Bulawayo 58-28 to make it four wins on the trot and guarantee themselves, at least, a place in the repechage section of the battle for a place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Namibia cannot finish below second place in the group, after their victory in Bulawayo, and this means that even in the highly unlikely event they do not secure automatic qualification, by winning the group, they will get a second bite of the cherry to try again through the repechage.
They took their tally to 20 points from four matches, after as many wins, and they have piled on 294 points while only conceding 41, with more than half of those points conceded coming in the match in Bulawayo, in which the Zimbabweans replied to the rallying call from their coach to score four tries.
The Sables became the first team to score four tries against the Namibians in the current qualifiers and this was due to a vastly improved performance by the Zimbabweans who, had struggled to justify all the hype surrounding De Villiers arrival, in their first three matches.
The Sables staggered to a home draw against bottom club Morocco before they were beaten in Kenya and Tunisia in their first three matches.
Saturday’s result also meant that they now do not stand a chance of playing for a place at next year’s World Cup and, with a game to go against Uganda, their only mission now is to ensure that they avoid relegation from the group.
However, those who saw the Zimbabweans perform on Saturday, though in a losing cause, believe there could be light at the end of the dark tunnel under De Villiers who, in 2009, became the first Springboks coach to put together a 100% winning record against bitter rivals, All Blacks, in a single year, since Nick Mallet.
He also became the first Boks coach to guide them to victory over the All Blacks in Dunedin, which is known as the House of Pain, in New Zealand.
The hearty exploits of the Sables did not go unnoticed by the rugby world.
Abdelaziz Bougja, chairperson of Rugby Africa, said while the Namibians were deserved winners of the game, the Zimbabweans gave it a good fight.
Today was another clear victory for Namibia, well done,” he said in comments carried by their partners, the APO Group. “The Zimbabweans however showed great skills and scored more points in this match against Namibia than Namibia has conceded over their first three matches.
“Depending on the result of Kenya Vs Tunisia next weekend in Nairobi, we might have a thrilling final on August 18 between Namibia and Kenya.”
Namibian head coach Phil Davies was also impressed with the way the hosts gave as much as they got in this encounter even though, at the end, the quality of his side shone through.
The Namibians have been the dominant force in these qualifiers for years now.
“You have to give credit to Peter and the players today, Zimbabwe was fantastic. They played some good rugby with good offloads which put us under more pressure,” said Davies.
“What we did is we dug deep and we were very clinical when we had to be- and we deserve the victory.”
Sables skipper Denford Mutamangira conceded defeat to a better side but said his men had shown they can fight against the best team in the qualifiers.
“Namibia is a very good side but we also showed some signs of brilliance,” he said. “Whenever we thought we were back in the game, we conceded and it’s something that we need to work on to make sure we don’t concede soft tries.”
The Namibians know that a victory over Kenya will book them a place at the next World Cup in Japan and Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, the founder and chief executive of the APO Group, said he was happy with the quality of rugby coming from the qualifiers.
“We are witnessing a high-quality Rugby Africa Gold Cup, as the nations compete for the chance to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2019,” he said.
“Namibia is very much in the driving seat to qualify to their sixth consecutive Rugby World Cup, but if Kenya beat Tunisia next week, we will have a formidable final with Namibia vs Kenya on August 18.
“Rugby is the second most popular sport in Kenya and I know all Kenyan rugby fans are very excited about that prospect.”