THE Paramount Garments Rugby Africa Mens 7s Tournament ended in heartbreak for hosts Zimbabwe and neighbours South Africa who both missed the opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics following a disappointing finish at Harare Sports Club yesterday.
The hosts fell short in front of an appreciative home crowd when they lost 12-24 to old foes Uganda in the third place play-off while South Africa’s Blitzbok, who were pre-tournament favourites, choked in the final.
Instead, it was Kenya who went all the way back home to East Africa smiling after winning the final against South Africa 17-12, and bagging the sole ticket to next year’s Olympic Games in France.
The newly crowned kings of African sevens rugby will join the already qualified teams of France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland and USA in Paris next year, with two more teams expected from the Oceania and Asian qualifiers coming up in November. However, Africa sevens tournament runners up South Africa and third-place finishers Uganda are still in with one more chance in the final Olympic repechage tournament to be held in June next year.
But Zimbabwe’s Cheetahs’ 2024 Olympics dream ended with the defeat to Uganda in the bronze medal match.
Uganda, who were the defending champions going into the 12-team tournament, should have comfort in the win after they had relinquished their crown in the semi-finals to South Africa.
The Cranes came back strongly for the playoff against a Zimbabwe side that had trounced them 35-5 in the last pool C match the previous day. And, after conceding an early try, they quickly regrouped and took the game back to the hosts with two quick tries as they led 10-5 at the break.
They touched down again soon after the breather and extended the lead. But Ryan Musumhi ensured Zimbabwe stayed in the game when he pierced through the Ugandan lines in lightning pace and planted a brilliant try that was converted to take the scores to 12-5, with a little over three minutes remaining on the clock.
The game still hung in the balance when the Cranes bulldozed their way with a late converted try that effectively swung the game in their favour. The result signaled the end of Zimbabwe’s Olympics dream and presented another chance for Uganda in the upcoming global qualifier.
Zimbabwe had a promising start in the tournament, finishing top of pool C with two wins and a draw on Saturday. They started off their campaign with a 12-12 draw against Burkina Faso and then upped the tempo with a 47-5 win over Algeria.
They then booked their place in the quarterfinals courtesy of a 35-5 win over Uganda in the last pool C game.
Ricky Chirengende’s men continued on a positive note yesterday when they dismissed Madagascar 26-10 to book a date with eventual champions Kenya, in the semi-finals.
The Kenyans proved too strong after romping to a 35-10 win to set up an interesting match-up with Sandile Ngcobo’s Springbok Sevens, who had ended Uganda’s reign with a 26-14 win in the last four.
But the Kenyans shocked their powerful opponents with two tries from Patrick Odongo and another one from John Okoth in their 17-12 win, which sealed automatic qualification to the Paris 2024 Games.
Final: South Africa 12-17 Kenya
Semi-final: Kenya 35-10 Zimbabwe; South Africa 26-14 Uganda
Quarterfinals: Zimbabwe 26-10 Madagascar