Rugby union in Zimbabwe

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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

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]

Governing body[edit]

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 players[edit]

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 have been some 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:

British Lions tours[edit]

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 also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • 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