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The Zimbabwe senior rugby team got their Africa Cup Group 1A campaign off to a winning start after overcoming a committed Kenyan side in a thrilling encounter at Prince Edward School’s Jubilee Field in the capital yesterday.

The Sables scored three tries through Sanele Sibanda, Rian O’Neill and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo while flyhalf Tichafara Makwanya was impressive from the kicking tee as he chipped in with 15 points from two conversions and three penalties.

Kenya, who bounced back gly after conceding two early tries, scored through Jacob Ojee, Darwin Mukidza and impressive eighthman Joshua Chisanga.

Cheered on by a vocal sell-out crowd, the Sables got off to a rampant start, dominating both territory and possession which eventually yielded the first try of the match in the 11th minute.

Scotland-based flank Andrew Rose who was a marvel to watch with ball in hand made a brilliant run which created the space for Sibanda’s break and touch down for the opening try.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors four minutes later when impressive centre O’Neill finished off a quickly taken lineout from Gardner Nechironga after Makwanya’s well-timed tactical kick had come off Mukidza inside the Kenyan half.

Kenya however stepped up a gear and were soon on the board through a try from winger Ojee, who capitalised on a mistake by gangly lock Fortune Chipendo.

Zimbabwe had a chance to further stretch their lead when the speedy Chitokwindo glided past the Kenyan defence, only to lose the ball forward in contact after a last ditch tackle on the tryline.

However, Makwanya would make amends with a penalty from under the posts after Kenya had been penalised for a late tackle on scrumhalf Charles Jiji.

After looking seemingly in control, the Sables lost their way late in the first half with too many missed tackles and handling errors.

They were duly punished as Kenya completed their remarkable comeback with two quick tries in the last five minutes as the two teams went to the break deadlocked at 17-all.

Despite taking the lead with an early second half penalty, the Sables’ cause seemed to be further undermined when Chipendo was yellow-carded in the 51st minute, which resulted in a penalty which was duly converted by Mukidza.

Despite struggling to regain their early dominance, the Sables showed tremendous defensive commitment and character in the later stages of the match before Chitokwindo’s try with 10 minutes to go after a pass from replacement flyhalf Lenience Tambwera.

The Sables, who have now won their last five international fixtures against their East African rivals, will be pleased with the result but disappointed with their overall performance.

Zimbabwe coach Cyprian Mandenge said they needed to work on their tackling and ball handling ahead of their next home match against Tunisia next month.

“Once there was a fumble it was easy for the opposition to score. We fumbled the odd ball and they counter-attacked and scored. Our first time tackling was also a letdown. So it’s those little things we have to work on,” Mandenge said.

Sables Starting XV — 1. Denford Mutamangira (c), 2. Royal Mwale, 3. Farai Mudariki, 4. Sanele Sibanda, 5. Fortune Chipendo, 6. Shingi Mpofu, 7.Andrew Rose, 8. Kingsley Lang, 9. Charles Jiji, 10. Tich Makwanya, 11. Gardner Nechironga, 12. Cleopas Makotose, 13. Riaan O’Neill, 14. Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, 15. Tangai Nemadire

Replacements – 16. Kudzai Muzorewa, 17. Lawrence Cleminson, 18. Tatenda Murwira, 19. Bisele Tshamala, 20. Boyd Rouse, 21. Stephan Hunduza, 22. Lenience Tambwera, 23.Peter Joubert, 24.

Kenya Starting XV – 1. Moses Amusala, 2.Sam Warui, 3. Isaiah Nyariki, 4. Ronnie Mwenesi, 5.Oliver Mangeni, 6.Brian Nyikuli, 7. Lawrence Buyachi, 8. Joshua Chisanga, 9. Lylle Asiligwa, 10. Adimo Wamamba, 11. Jacob Ojee, 12.Kelvin Omiyo, 13.Fabian Olando, 14.Darwin Mukidza, 15.Sam Oliech

Replacements – 16.peter Kaaria, 17.Curtis Lilako, 18. Emmanuel Mavala, 19. Davis Chenge, 20. Robert Aringo, 21. Dennis Muhanji, 22.Vincent Mose

Source : Zimbabwe Standard

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