Zimbabwe Cheetahs undaunted by opening Wales clash at RWC Sevens

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Cheetahs forwards (L to R) Boyd Rouse, Connor Pritchard and Shayne Makombe

The 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens kicks off on around midnight on Friday (UAE time) at AT&T Park in San Francisco and Zimbabwe is geared up to turn the tables.

The Cheetahs are the continent’s fourth representative at the competition along with Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.

Undaunted by their first fixture against Wales, the Cheetahs will be fielding two captains, Stephan Hunduza and Boyd Rouse.

“We’re not worried about Wales,” said Hunduza.

“As Zimbabweans, we have speed. Our pressure has been on perfecting the skills we’ve been working on whilst utilising our speed.”

Rouse added, “Going into this World Cup, we’ve got a good combination of speed, skill and physicality- when needed against certain opposition.”

Zimbabwe's Shayne Makombe who was crowned Player of The Tournament at the Rome Sevens

Zimbabwe’s Shayne Makombe who was crowned Player of The Tournament at the Rome Sevens

Zimbabwe will be fielding a younger team which will be looking to make early scores in the first two to three minutes of each fixture.

The selection of younger players is born out of a need to establish continuity by developing younger players able to commit more time thereby contributing to the team’s competitive advantage.

“We attended the Rome Sevens three weeks ago which helped our young players prepare for what’s coming ahead,” said Zimbabwe sevens head coach, Gilbert Nyamutsamba.

“They managed to play at an international tournament, rubbing shoulders with great players and I’m happy that most of our players stood out.”

Indeed Zimbabwe’s Shayne Makombe was crowned Player of The Tournament, as the team finished second.

“My work now is to keep the players grounded,” continued Nyamutsamba.

“Yes, it’s a World Cup where you’re representing your country, – a dream come true for most of these young men but, at the same time, it’s still a rugby game and we need to approach it as such.”

The Zimbabwe Cheetahs squad for the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens is: Boyd Rouse, Connor Pritchard, Nelson Madida, Kudakwashe Chiwanza, Ngoni Chibuwe, Shayne Makombe, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Biselele Tshamala, Shingirai Hlanguyo, Tarisai Mugariri, Stephan Hunduza and Riaan O’Niell.

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England star Emily Scarratt aims for a Rugby World Cup-winning double in San Francisco this weekend

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Engalnd vice-captain Emily Scarratt

England star Emily Scarratt will aim for a Rugby World Cup-winning double in San Francisco this weekend.

Scarratt, a key member of the England team that enjoyed 15-a-side global glory four years ago, switches her attention to the Rugby World Cup sevens.

And the England vice-captain, whose colleagues include five of her fellow Great Britain 2016 Rio Olympians, is geared up for what will be a considerable challenge.

England’s opening game is against Ireland on Friday, and the tournament’s straight knockout format means there are no second chances that would be offered by a pool stage system.

Scarratt, though, relishes such pressure as eighth seeds England look to make their way through a competition that recent form suggests could be dominated by New Zealand and Australia.

“It is going to be a really interesting format,” Scarratt told Press Association Sport. “We’ve never been through it before.

“It is a knockout mentality from the start. But if we are honest, that’s the pressure we should have all the time.

“Ultimately, you don’t get a second chance.

“Quite often in sevens tournaments, you can get away with one bad performance – it doesn’t necessarily mean your tournament is over – so every team is going to have to make sure they are right on it.

“The standard is awesome. I didn’t play sevens last season, but I did the year before, and coming back into it you can see the vast differences teams and players have made in their games.

“Everyone is having to step up, and the standards are being pushed higher and higher, which can only be great for the game.”

England head coach James Bailey’s 12-strong squad is captained by Abbie Brown, with nine players that featured in England’s bronze medal-winning Commonwealth Games team earlier this year included.

Bailey said: “We have a very tight squad, and the players’ willingness to work exceptionally hard for each other has been demonstrated consistently throughout the season.

“The Commonwealth Games illustrated what we are capable of, which gives us confidence for the Rugby World Cup.

“We see San Francisco as a celebration of all of the hard work that the entire unit of players has put in this season, and as another opportunity to go out there and create some very special memories.”

Sixteen teams will contest the women’s competition, with 24 in the men’s, and like Scarratt, Bailey applauds the knockout schedule.

“We are incredibly excited about the new format of the competition,” he added.

“It’s very different to what we are used to on the World Series circuit, but we are really looking forward to being a part of it.”

England squad: Abbie Brown (capt), Emily Scarratt, Holly Aitchison, Claire Allan, Jess Breach, Heather Fisher, Vicky Fleetwood, Deborah Fleming, Natasha Hunt, Alex Matthews, Sarah McKenna, Amy Wilson Hardy.

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Real Madrid star Gareth Bale leads tributes to Sam Warburton

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Gareth Bale has congratulated Sam Warburton

Gareth Bale has led the tributes to Sam Warburton, after the Wales and British and Irish Lions captain announced his retirement from rugby aged 29 on Wednesday.

Real Madrid and Wales footballer Bale attended Whitchurch High School in Cardiff in the same year as Warburton, playing in the same football team.

Bale wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations on an incredible career mate. Good luck for everything in the future @samwarburton_ #welshlegend.”

Warburton’s retirement was announced on the day another Whitchurch old boy, Geraint Thomas, claimed the yellow jersey and victory in stage 11 of the Tour de France.

Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton has not played since the Lions’ drawn series with New Zealand in June 2017 and has opted to quit following neck and knee operations last year. He captained Wales on 49 occasions and the Lions five times.

Tributes poured in on Twitter from the rugby world, from Warburton’s teams and team-mates, rivals and opposition teams.

The British and Irish Lions tweeted: “A leader on the pitch, a gentleman off it. Thank You @samwarburton_ for the incredible memories.”

Wales centre Scott Williams wrote: “Devastated with the news @samwarburton_ absolute legend of the game and unbelievable career. Proud to have played under you! Half decent bloke too.”

Former Wales and Lions back James Hook said: “Congratulations Warby! A barnstorming career to be proud of pal. Pleasure to take the field with you @samwarburton_.”

Mike Phillips, another former team-mate of Warburton’s with Wales and the Lions, tweeted: “Fantastic career mate, great player, captain and nice guy! Best of luck.”

Italy captain Sergio Parisse wrote: “What a fantastic career @samwarburton_ It was a pleasure to play against you #welshlegend.”

Former Wales forward Scott Quinnell, now a television pundit, added his tribute.

“Congratulations @samwarburton_ on a fantastic career. You will not find a better ambassador for our great game on and off the pitch. Good luck for the next chapter,” Quinnell said.

Bill Beaumont, the head of World rugby, wrote: “Saddened to hear of @samwarburton_ ‘s retirement.

“Sam was an outstanding player, inspirational @WelshrugbyUnion & @lionsofficial captain, a super ambassador for the sport & above all a fantastic person.

“He will be successful in whatever he chooses to do next.”

Referee Nigel Owens wrote on Twitter: “One of the modern greats of rugby. But more importantly a genuine great man. One of Wales greatest Ambassadors on and off the field. Best wishes for the future. Pob lwc @samwarburton_ @WelshrugbyUnion.”

Warburton is a supporter of Tottenham, the team Bale left in a then world record transfer to Real.

Spurs wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations on a fantastic career, @samwarburton_. Enjoy your retirement. #COYS”

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