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Cheetahs begin the final leg of preparations for the World Sevens Series core membership qualifier today when they arrive in Hong Kong for a tournament set to get underway on Friday at the Hong Kong Stadium.

In his first assignment, Cheetahs’ coach Daniel Hondo has made two changes to the side that took part at last year’s Port Elizabeth leg of the World Series as veteran forward Fortune Chipendu was dropped, while winger Wensely Mbanje was never called into camp.

Chipendu, together with Mkhululi Ndlela and Takudzwa Francisco, who all missed out on selection, are back in the country.

The duo of University of Johannesburg scrummy Hilton Mudariki and Germany-based Tafadzwa Chitokwindo were not part of the training camp in Cape Town and will join the rest of the squad in Hong Kong.

Hondo has kept faith in the youthful side whose average age is just below 26 years, Leitao, who is turning 33 in July, being the most senior both in age and experience.

This means that Riaan O’Niell is set to earn his debut appearance in the Cheetahs colours having also earned his debut for the Sables last year while Biselele Tshamala makes a return having last played for the Sevens side at the same tournament in Asia last year.

Hondo said they will have to work their training schedule when they arrive in the Far East as this will depend on the tournament organisers but he believes the 12 players he has selected are the best to do the job for the nation.

“We will have full details on our preparations in Hong Kong when we get there,” said the former Sables captain.

Five of the players Hondo has picked were part of the squad that represented Zimbabwe at the same tournament last year when he was still assistant coach.

Captain Jacques Leitao, who has two World Cup appearances, forward Njabulo Ndlovu, winger Chitokwindo, utility Stephan Hunduza, Kilvan Magunje and Boyd Rouse were all there last year.

The Cheetahs camped in South Africa for almost a week where they were at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, with the likes of Blitzbokke, South Africa Elite Player Development Academy and Maties Rugby.

“The session went very well, our defence structure worked well and we played against them for over an hour.

“I am happy to have done that (practiced with South Africa) because we got a lot out of it. The Blitzbokke helped throughout the session with some pointers,” said the former Cheetahs play-maker.

Hondo also took time to go through all the sessions they have held in South Africa so far, since their arrival on Tuesday, a day they rested before taking to both the field and gym on Wednesday morning.

“Day one was a great day for us, we started off with fitness testing of the SA based guys (Shayne Makombe, Biselele Tshamala and Njabulo Ndlovu) and then went on to a field session.

“We covered a lot of ground at the session and the players look sharp and can only build from there.

“The second session was an even better session for us and we looked more on our defensive structures. It was a fruitful day,” Hondo told The Herald.

Zimbabwe have been drawn in Pool G together with Spain, Tonga, and Guyana while the other teams, which will be vying for the sole ticket, include Hong Kong, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico in Pool E while Pool F features Russia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea and Tunisia.

Source : The Herald