BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE has been named among the 16 countries taking part in the new international rugby sevens competition, the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, which gets underway next year.
The new series, which is a rung below the top tier HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, will kick-off in February with the aim of developing the next generation of rugby players and grow
ing the popularity and participation in the sevens tournament.
The two legs of the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series will be played in South America in Viña del Mar, Chile, (February 15-16) and Montevideo, Uruguay (February 22-23).
Thirteen nations have earned their place in the Challenger Series by finishing as the top ranked nations which are not already competing in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at their respective regional sevens competitions in 2019.
The teams competing in the 2020 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series are Brazil, Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.
They will be joined by three invitational teams from the Americas: Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.
The top eight core teams after the two rounds will then compete in the final playoff tournament for a spot in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, replacing the bottom placed core team in the World Series in the following season.
The final playoff tournament will be hosted alongside the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens event from April 3 to 5, 2020.
Zimbabwe, who are affectionately known as the Cheetahs, will be hoping to use the new rugby sevens series as a springboard towards realising their goal of becoming a core team on the top tier HSBC World Sevens Series.
“It’s a really good initiative and certainly something we’ve been asking for as the lower-tier teams because in the past, we didn’t have regular game time compared to the core sides on the World Rugby Sevens Series,” Cheetahs coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba told NewsDay Sport yesterday.
“Hopefully, this new tournament will go a long way in bridging the gap between the core teams and the teams that will feature in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series and we will begin to see some of the teams earning promotion to the top tier,” he said.
The World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in February will kick off a busy year for the Cheetahs, who will also take part in the Olympic repechage in June 2020 to try and secure their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Zimbabwe finished third at this year’s Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens in Johannesburg, South Africa, last month in the process failing to secure direct qualification to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Cheetahs, defending champions at this year’s competition, beat Madagascar 24-7 in the tournament’s third place playoff, with the result good enough to send them to next year’s repechage qualifier and a spot in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
Kenya won the tournament with a 29-0 triumph over Uganda in an East African decider to determine the winner of the direct ticket to the Olympics.