ZIMBABWE'S bid to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan suffered a major setback after the Sables were demoted from African rugby's elite Group 1A following a disappointing 27-34 defeat to Uganda at the Police Grounds yesterday.
After losing to Kenya in their opening Africa Cup match at the same venue two weeks ago, the Sables faced a must-win contest against Uganda to remain in the top tier, whose winner in 2019 qualifies for the next Rugby World Cup.
And having taken an early 14-3 lead after converted early tries from fullback Tangai Nemadire and right wing Lungile Tshuma in response to an earlier penalty by fullback Watum Syrus, the Sables looked on course to bounce back in style.
However, a lapse in concentration just before the break resulted in two quick tries by prop Robert Masendi and centre Okarach Michael, leaving the Sables facing an uphill task as they went to the break trailing 14-15.
Two quick penalties in a space of four minutes by Lenience Tambwera soon after the restart thrust the Sables back into the lead but they never really looked like closing out the contest as they struggled with their finishing.
In fact, Cyprian Mandenge's charges played second fiddle to their opponents, whose physical forwards dominated the breakdown and scrums while the line-out set piece was also a major letdown.
The Cranes made their territorial dominance count. First Masendi dived over in the corner for his second before a sweeping backline move saw fullback Syrus spring over from 22 metres out to plant a try under the posts and give his team a 20-27 lead.
Wing Stephen Hunduza gave Zimbabwe some hope with a try in the corner, which Tambwera converted brilliantly from a tight angle, but it was wing Thomas Kalyango, who had the final say with a late converted penalty.
While the Sables had a chance to at least salvage a draw with Jacques Leitao's last gasp try being harshly ruled out by the referee, Uganda were deserving winners in the end.
The result left the Sables facing the prospect of playing in the lower tier Group 1B in 2017 as they anchor the four-team standings behind Namibia, Uganda and Kenya.
Mandenge, the Sables coach, felt injuries to key players at crucial periods in the match was a big contributing factor to his team's defeat as he had to use hooker Keith Murray as a centre towards the end of the clash.
"Unfortunately we got injuries at the wrong time and we ended up using a forward in the backline. That aside, we didn't take our chances, we had three or four scoring opportunities that we didn't put away and we also conceded soft tries," Mandenge said.
Source: Zimbabwe Standard.