The Botswana Rugby national team, the Vultures, has been hit with injuries as they prepare for their Confederations Cup tournament billed for Zimbabwe this month.
The team is expected to battle it out with a second string side of Pretoria-based rugby powerhouse, the Blue Bulls, in Gaborone next Sunday.
While injuries have depleted the team, they also had their playing kit stolen as they were leaving for Polokwane for a friendly game against Noordelikes this past weekend.
According to the team Coach, Neal Gouws, the team kit was stolen after thieves broke into the team bus at Selebi Phikwe. While some of the kit was recovered, the team had to do with whatever kit was left for their encounter against Noordelikes of Polokwane.
The Vultures eventually lost the game 28 ÔÇô 10.
Despite all the odds they faced, coach Gouws says he was very pleased with the performance of the team, more especially as this was their first game together as a team.
While admitting that the break in into the team bus rattled his players a bit, he says this cannot be taken as a reason for the team’s loss.
Gouws says the fact that this is a completely new team from that of the past years and that they were playing their maiden game together contributed a lot to the loss.
He also hinted that the team arrived late for their weekend game due to delays at the border and had to play without proper warm up. He says he is very upbeat ahead of the grueling encounters against the Bulls as well as the Confederations cup.
Gouws, however, admits that the team has to work hard to rectify some of its weaknesses. He says areas that need much attention include taking set pieces, ball retention, line-out balls and aggression on the field.
He added that the team has to put more aggression into their game if they are to do well.
Another area of concern for the coach is the depletion of the squad due to injuries.
The team, which has been struggling with injuries, had another woeful weekend as they lost three more influential players to injuries in their Polokwane encounter.
Meanwhile, the president of the Botswana Rugby Union, Bob Lekan, says preparations for the Vultures’ weekend encounter with the Blue Bulls are at an advanced stage.
Speaking to Telegraph Sport, Lekan said the game, which has been organized with the help of the team sponsors, Orange, is of vital importance if the team is to play well during the Confederations Cup.
To ensure that the team has the best players to represent the country, the Union held trials and experts from South Africa were engaged to help identify players for the national team.
For the first time since its inception, the team will also have a fully functional technical bench and its own team manager.
Lekan says the standard of rugby in South Africa is very high and playing the Bulls second string side will do the team a lot of good. He says despite this being a second string side, the team is to be taken seriously as most of the players would like to break into the senior side and are also products of a sound development programme.
Apart from the much needed match practice, the rugby president says the game also opens avenues for relationships between the South Africans and the Botswana Rugby Union. He alluded to the fact that, should things go as planned, they will benefit a lot as the Blue Bulls have the most comprehensive development programme and their help and input will thus greatly benefit rugby development in the country.
As for injured players, Mr Lekan says all injured players have been put in an intensive rehabilitation process to try speed up their recovery ahead of the Zimbabwe tournament.
He says the team has to perform well in the Confederations Cup if it is to retain its position in Africa’s top 12 teams. He says failure to produce a convincing performance may result in the team being demoted to the Development league.
Botswana is expected to face Namibia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe in a tournament to be hosted by the latter from the 27th of June to the 4th of April.
Whilst Madagascar is an unknown quantity in rugby circles, Zimbabwe and Namibia pose a major threat to the Vultures’ ambitions. Namibia, for one, has at some stage gone as far as participating in the Rugby World Cup and has a number of players plying their trade in South Africa.