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Rugby union in Zimbabwe

  (Redirected from Rugby union in Rhodesia)

Rugby union in Zimbabwe is a significant sport. Like the country's history, it has been riven with controversy, but equally the world has seen Zimbabwe at the Rugby World Cup on two occasions. As with rugby union in Namibia, the country's lack of infrastructure, and largely rural population has been a problem for national organisers.[2]

Rugby union in Zimbabwe
Governing bodyZimbabwe Rugby Union
National team(s)Zimbabwe
Nickname(s)The Sables
First played1890
Registered players33,128[1]
National competitions
Zimbabwe Sevens Rugby Team at the 2009 Hong Kong Sevens

Governing bodyEdit

The Rhodesian Rugby Football Union was founded in 1895.[3]


Zimbabwe was formerly known as Rhodesia, and this name change reflects the complex history of the country.

Not unlike other neighbouring African countries, Zimbabwean rugby has been a legacy of British colonialism. This has created big problems, particularly as it has been dominated by a white settler class, and has not achieved the kind of racial integration that it should have done. Attempts to increase participation amongst the black population continue, with mixed results.[2] The government of Ian Smith encouraged this split, and actions by his successor, Robert Mugabe have helped drive away many of the white people who were the mainstay of the land.

From 1952, Rhodesian/Zimbabwean rugby was split into two subregions, centred on the two main cities, Harare (formerly "Salisbury" in the north) and Bulawayo in the south.[2]

For a number of years, Rhodesia competed as a province in the B division of South Africa's Currie Cup.[2] This relationship with South African rugby was an unhealthy one, as South Africa would frequently take the best players for its Springboks, and even coaches such as Ian McIntosh who coached the South Africa side in 1993.[2]

Because of the boycott of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, Zimbabwe was the only African side to be invited to the 1987 Rugby World Cup. It managed to requalify for the 1991 Rugby World Cup, but has not been in the tournament subsequently.

Côte d'Ivoire (The Ivory Coast) slipped past them, Namibia, and the third African favourite, Morocco in the qualifiers for the 1995 Rugby World Cup.[4] Côte d'Ivoire went into the World Cup optimistic, with coach Claude Ezoua saying:

"We want to prove to the world that there is more to African rugby than just South Africa."[4]

Despite Namibia and Zimbabwe having qualified for the RWC at different times, both of these countries were firmly within the South African orbit, had players who spoke English and/or Afrikaans, who were mostly white. Namibia had previously been a colony of South Africa, as South West Africa, and Zimbabwe had provided SA with a number of players such as Ray Mordt.[5] The Côte d'Ivoire was not even in existence when the first (invitation only) Rugby World Cup was played in 1987, and had in fact played their first international in 1990 against Zimbabwe.[5]

Zimbabwe competes in the Africa Cup and plays regularly against teams in neighbouring countries, as well as South African teams.[2]

Notable playersEdit

Because of the complex racial problems of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia and South Africa, most of the best-known players in the past were white. However, there has been a growing number of notable black Zimbabwean players such as Richard Tsimba[2] and his younger brother Kennedy Tsimba,[6] Bedford Chibima,[2] Honeywell Nguruve,[2] Tendai Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Takudzwa Ngwenya and Tonderai Chavhanga. The Tsimba brothers were inducted together to the IRB Hall of Fame in 2012.[6]

Other notable Zimbabwean/Rhodesian players include:

  • Salty du Rand, lock, who played for Northern Transvaal, and captained the Springboks. He was capped 21 times for South Africa between 1949–56.[2] He lived and played in Rhodesia for many years.[7]
  • Andy McDonald
  • Ray Mordt, winger, described by Danie Craven as "a wounded rhinoceros in the body of a man" played for Rhodesia and South Africa. He later went on to play rugby league.[2]
  • Ian Robertson, winger/fullback who played for Rhodesia and South Africa.[8]
  • Adrian Garvey, prop/hooker who played for Zimbabwe, Natal[2] and South Africa during their longest winning streak of 1997-98 and their Tri-Nations Championship victory of 1998.
  • Tendai Mtawarira, aka "the Beast", prop, plays for the Sharks, is South Adrica’s most capped prop, and has played twice for the Barbarians.
  • Brian Mujati, prop, Northampton Saints and South Africa.
  • Takudzwa Ngwenya, wing, currently plays for the USA and Biarritz. One of the candidates for the unofficial title of "fastest player in modern rugby"—at least until the 2012 emergence of United States Sevens player Carlin Isles—he moved to the USA at high school age.
  • Tonderai Chavhanga, winger, another former candidate for "fastest player in modern rugby", Stormers and South Africa.
  • RA van Schoor.[7]
  • Bobby Skinstad, flanker/number 8, was born in Bulawayo, played for the Stormers and South Africa, captaining the Springboks in 2003.
  • Gary Teichmann, number 8, born in Gweru, played for the Sharks and captained South Africa during their longest winning streak in 1997-98 and their Tri-Nations Championship victory of 1998.
  • David Curtis
  • David Pocock, back-rower for Australia and Western Force, emigrated with his family from Zimbabwe when he was 14.
  • Anthony Henniker-Gotley, former England captain, lived in Rhodesia, and played for police there.
  • David Denton, plays flanker/No8 for Scotland.
  • Thom Evans, fullback/winger, capped 10 times by Scotland.
  • Piet Greyling grew up on a tobacco farm in Mashonaland before representing Rhodesia, the Free State, Northern Transvaal, Transvaal, and South Africa at flank.

British Lions toursEdit

The British Lions toured South Africa a number of times. Despite officially being South African tours, the Lions also played Rhodesia (as it was then). Later tours of the region were stopped until the 1990s, due to the controversy over playing Ian Smith's regime, and apartheid era South Africa.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1-86200-013-1)
  • Cotton, Fran (Ed.) (1984) The Book of Rugby Disasters & Bizarre Records. Compiled by Chris Rhys. London. Century Publishing. ISBN 0-7126-0911-3
  • Jones, J.R. Encyclopedia of Rugby Union Football (Robert Hale, London, 1976 ISBN 0-7091-5394-5)
  • Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84596-255-5)
  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Bath p79
  4. ^ a b Richards, Chapter 13 Resisting the Inevitable, p 237
  5. ^ a b Bath p69
  6. ^ a b "Tsimba brothers enter IRB Hall of Fame" (Press release). International Rugby Board. 25 October 2012. Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  7. ^ a b Jones, p109
  8. ^ "Ian William Robertson". 13 October 2012. Retrieved 26 April 2019.