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A crisis is simmering in the Zimbabwe Rugby Union amid revelations that the association is deeply divided over the role of powerful director of coaching Liam Middleton in the national teams.

Middleton was appointed director of rugby in October last year on a five-year mandate in which he is expected to put in place structures to develop the game at districts, schools provincial and national levels.

But as the ZRU prepare to go before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sport, Arts and Culture to present a report on the state of rugby, the union will also have to deal with the divisions that have emerged ever since Middleton allegedly abandoned his role as director of rugby to effectively become the de facto national Sevens and XVs gaffer.

Middleton appears to have divided opinion in the ZRU corridors with his role and actions a far cry from the unity and confidence-booster he seemed to foster when he was coaching the Cheetahs from his England base and working closely with the now retired Sevens manager Bruce Hobson.

Investigations into the goings-on at ZRU indicate that Middleton has literally been given a free reign in the way he has been running the game with the close support of the union’s vice-president Colleen de Jong, whose appointment has also raised a stink amid claims that it was unconstitutional.

De Jong was appointed in unclear circumstances when in terms of the ZRU constitution, a special meeting should have been held where board members from provinces and other affiliates should have voted for a replacement for Aisha Tsimba who left to take up a post on the Sport and Recreation Commission board.

The ZRU are next week expected to appear before the parliamentary portfolio committee where they will also tell the legislators the circumstances that led to Zimbabwe failing to secure automatic qualification for the 2015 World Cup in England.

Chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee Temba Mliswa indicated earlier this week that they had deferred their summons to the ZRU in order to allow the union to focus on the Africa Cup tournament in Madagascar last weekend, which also served as the continent’s World Cup qualifier.

“Just like we have been doing with other national associations, we would want to hear the state of rugby from the ZRU. We could have heard from them last week but we wanted them to fully focus on the World Cup qualifiers as they would also have to encompass that in their report,” Mliswa said.

At that tournament, the Sables finished a close second behind Namibia who won automatic qualification with Zimbabwe now having to face Russia in Serbia in the first of two play-off rounds. Apart from the familiar chorus of lack of financial resources which the ZRU claim forced them to only hold a 10-day training camp for the Sables, the Union have also failed to clarify the mandates of their national coaches.

It emerged that although Brendan Dawson is the national coach, it was Middleton who was once again calling the shots with assistant Sables gaffer Cyprian Mandenge virtually a “water boy” and team manager Bright Chivandire a mere welfare manager despite his vast technical expertise.

Despite Middleton taking virtual charge of the Sables in Madagascar as he did on the visit to Namibia in November 2013, the former coach of England club side Bristol has somehow not been “held responsible for the results of the World Cup qualifiers and the games he presided over”.

Instead it is the coaches who now face an uncertain future with ZRU president John Falkenberg confirming that Dawson and his technical crew are not guaranteed an extended stay in the office beyond the ongoing qualifiers in which Zimbabwe would play the winner between Uruguay and Hong Kong should they clear the Russian hurdle in Serbia on August 2. Sources said the ZRU would have to deal with simmering discontent over allegations that Middleton has abandoned his role as director of coaching for the glamour and the glitz that comes with coaching the Sables and the Cheetahs.

“The ZRU has always struggled to move away from being a closed shop where only a few people really know what would be going on and would be making all the decisions.

“They appoint coaches who do the groundwork in the build-up to major tournaments and somehow frustrate them the way Gilbert Nyamutsamba was frozen out of the Cheetahs system in April ahead of the important IRB World Series tournament in Hong Kong.

“Of course, there is shortage of financial resources but the ZRU have not helped their cause either by making some questionable decisions. Until they also resolve the issue of where Liam Middleton’s roles start and end, there will always be confusion in the Sables and the Cheetahs,” the sources.

Source : The Herald

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