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SCRUM-HALF Graham Kaulback, who broke his leg during a training session two years ago is back in the national Sevens rugby team.The Cheetahs are preparing for the upcoming Hong Kong Sevens World Series where they will get an opportunity to once again continue with their quest to be one of the elite Sevens rugby playing nations.

A 16-member training squad which was announced yesterday will go into camp next week.

The squad will be trimmed down to 12 in the run-up to the tournament.

Twelve teams will be contesting the Sevens World Series qualifier which starts on March 27 and runs until March 29.

Veterans who include Jacques Leitao, Jabulo Ndhlovu, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Fortune Chipendu have all been included in the training squad.

Uncapped players such as Francisco Takudwa, Mukulili Ndlela, Kuda Chiwanza and Riaan O’nell also make up the squad.

The Cheetahs are looking to win the second-tier qualifying competition in Hong Kong which will be used to select a new member into the elite World Rugby Sevens core membership league.

The second-tier competition is made up of 12 teams, four each in three pools which are vying for the sole core membership ticket.

Lack of progress towards attaining core status, analysts say stifles the growth of the shorter version of the game in the country.

Last year, the Cheetahs failed to make it as a core member following a 26-5 quarter-final defeat at the hands of Italy in the Hong Kong qualifier but new Cheetahs coach, Daniel Hondo, is determined to make it this year.

Hondo, who has been an integral part of the Cheetahs for close to a decade before calling time on his illustrious international career, will be leading the side in his maiden tour as substantive Cheetahs coach.

He told the Financial Gazette Sport yesterday that he was confident his players would rise to the occasion this time around having narrowly missed out in the past.

“This time around we have serious players who would want to go there and get a good result,” said Hondo.

“We look forward to our first game against Guyana, then Tonga finally against Spain.

The game against Spain would be a big one but we are determined to end the campaign on a positive note.”

Zimbabwe aim to become the third African country to attain the lucrative core status after South Africa and Kenya — the only African nations already on the core circuit.

Core status allows associations to be run professionally and comes with benefits such as participation in all the nine tournaments on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.

At the moment, Zimbabwe only takes part in selected tournaments on the circuit on an invitational basis and players are contracted on a tournament to tournament basis. Core status also comes with financial assistance from World Rugby which will allow more development programmes and widen teams’ scope of preparations.

Zimbabwe’s perpetual quest for core status has been under criticism and scrutiny after its poor show at the World Rugby Sevens Series over the years where the team failed to qualify for the elite league.

Zimbabwe, qualified for the Hong Kong tournament by reaching the semi-final stage of the Confederation of African Rugby tournament held in Zimbabwe last year in November which guaranteed them a slot at the Hong Kong series.

The confirmed teams for the Hong Kong qualifier tournament comprise two teams from each of the World Rugby’s six regional associations. The winner will earn core status for 201516 and replace the lowest ranked side at the conclusion of the current core series.

Japan won the qualifier in Hong Kong last year to join the series.

Russia and Spain are the representatives from Europe, Papua New Guinea and Tonga from Oceania, Zimbabwe and Tunisia from Africa, Mexico and Guyana from the Americas and Uruguay and Brazil from South America.

Zimbabwe have been pooled against Spain, Tonga and Guyana in the Pool stages of the Hong Kong world seven-a-side rugby series set for this month from March 27–29.

Zimbabwe will be hoping to stage a successful campaign in qualification Pool G battles with last year’s relegated side Spain, Tonga and Guyana. 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, Georgia, South Korea and Tunisia. The winner of the tournament in Hong Kong will automatically qualify for the World Rugby (formerly International Rugby Board) Sevens World Series in the 2015 season. Russia which usually give the Cheetahs a hard time is in Pool F where they will meet Georgia, Korea and Tunisia.

Cheetahs’ training squad

Fortune Chipendu, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Kuda Chiwanza, Francisco Taku-dzwa, Stephan Hunduza, Graham Kaulback,, Jacques Leitao, Kilvan Magunje, Shayne Makombe, Mukulili Ndlela, Njabulo Ndlovu, Riaan O’neill, Boyd Rouse, Lenience Tambera, Biselele Tshamala, Tapiwa Tsomondo.

Source : Financial Gazette

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