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Coventry commends Cheetahs fight

Coventry was speaking at the close of the Paramount Garments Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens Olympic Qualifiers hosted by Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club over the weekend.

SPORTS minister Kirsty Coventry has tipped the Zimbabwe Sevens team to make it to the 2028 Olympics scheduled for Los Angeles after they failed to make it to the 2024 edition.

She said the team is a neatly oiled machine with a fusion of upcoming talent, which should help them realise their dream.

Coventry was speaking at the close of the Paramount Garments Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens Olympic Qualifiers hosted by Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club over the weekend.

The Cheetahs fell to eventual champions Kenya 10-35 in the semi-finals, subsequently ending any hopes of qualifying for next year’s Olympics in Paris, France or the repechage. The locals settled for a fourth place finish in the 12-team qualifier after going down 12-24 to Uganda in the third place playoff,” Coventry said.

“It’s been a very successful tournament. The crowds, I want first of all to thank all the fans and everyone that came out to watch. They were cheering and loud for every team that came onto the field, maybe a little bit louder when Zimbabwe was playing, thanks to them.

“To the players, to our Cheetahs we are so proud of them. We know they wanted to get onto the podium with either bronze, silver or even the gold, but you know in the last final two games we had two or three of our top players that had been injured in the games before. We are very proud of them. I’m proud of the work they have done in the last year…and I know they will just keep going and keep pushing and getting higher.”

Coventry, the top Zimbabwean and Africa’s most decorated Olympian, won seven of the country’s eight Olympic medals to date. She said it would have been a great experience for the Cheetahs to play at the Paris Olympics.

“For me I would just be proud of them that they would have gone to experience the Olympic Games, but they will always be 2028.

“You know we have got a really strong U20s team at the moment and hopefully we will have some young talent in that U20s. I know it’s 15s but there will always be some talent that we will hopefully pull up and pull into the Sevens team and develop them for 2028,”she added.

Cheetahs head coach Ricky Chirengende revealed that the team lost the services of two-time Currie Cup winner Tapiwa Mafura to food poisoning. The Free State Cheetahs player was a thorn in the flesh for opponents during the pool games. Apart from Mafura,  vice captain, Hilton Mudariki and Rian O’Neil also missed out on Sunday due to concussions making it a difficult Sunday for the team.

“It was a tough day two for us for a number of reasons. Firstly, we had a few guys with tummy bugs with Mafura having a severe case of food poisoning so he couldn’t get out of bed on Sunday morning. We had to put him on a drip that morning to try and get him firstly to health and get him to play but obviously we couldn’t compromise the health of the player by forcing him to play,” Chirengende told NewsDay Sport.

“We got into that semi-final with 11-men with Mafura missing and then during that game we lost Hilton and Rian to concussions, so that’s three of our playmakers and centres out and it just proved to be a little difficult which obviously then filtered towards the Ugandan game.

“I think on Saturday we showed how we could beat Uganda and we really beat them convincingly. We were just left with nine men against them in that bronze playoff and as muchas the guys gave it their all we just came out short. 122-17 in the last possession of the game and we still had an opportunity to win the game but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”

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