Article First appeared in The Independent in Sport
SPINGBOK record-holder Tonderai Chavhanga has left his position as the assistant coach of his native Zimbabwe, citing increased work commitments elsewhere.
Chavhanga (36) worked under Zimbabwe’s head coach Brendan Dawson last year in the SuperSport Challenge, South Africa’s second-tier domestic competition, before assuming the same role at Test level with the full national side in the four-nation Victoria Cup competition.
Despite losing all seven matches in the SuperSport Challenge, Zimbabwe Academy began to show major improvements with each passing game, and Chavhanga was credited by the players themselves for his impact in the visible progress of a sharpened backline.
Following the debut SuperSport Challenge season, Zimbabwe proceeded to win the Victoria Cup after triumphing in five out of six Tests against Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) has been making concerted efforts to line up a strong technical team to guide the Sables to the 2023 World Cup in France, with Chavhanga very much part of the plans until his recent decision to leave the job.
But the Cape Town-based former winger, regarded by his admirers as the quickest rugby player in the world in his pomp, has been unable to balance coaching and his business interests in the fuel industry in South Africa.
“Unfortunately I’m just too busy with work commitments and could no longer commit my time to the team,” Chavhanga told IndependentSport this week.
“It’s sad not to be part of the journey going forward, but I’m grateful to Dawsie who gave me the opportunity to contribute to my country when he appointed me as his assistant coach. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I spent with the team. It was great to see how our players grew in confidence week by week during the SuperSport Challenge and even better to see them carry the momentum into the Vic Cup. I built a great friendship with Dawsie and the management team as well as becoming more than a coach, but a brother to the players. What excited me the most was working with such a group of talented players with a hunger to succeed.
The environment that Dawsie created for the team made it enjoyable for everyone who was part of the set-up. Leaving was a tough decision to make, but I felt that I couldn’t commit my time to the team, it was not fair on the team. Zimbabwe has really good coaches like Gordon Pangeti and Danny Hondo, they will do really well with the team.”
The Sables role was Chavhanga’s first coaching experience, but the former Stormers, Lions and Sharks speedster does not see himself committing to the job on full-time basis, although he has not ruled out future involvement with Zimbabwean rugby.
“I don’t see myself taking up any official coaching position as I need to focus on my business,” said Chavhanga.
“I have been in regular contact with Dawsie and I will always avail myself to assist in whatever way I can, even if it’s not in a coaching capacity.”
Zimbabwe last took part in the World Cup back in 1991, and with the country focussed on a return to the showpiece in 2023, Masvingo-born Chavhanga has tipped the Sables to achieve their goal if the team receives full backing.
“We have the players and a great coaching team, but unfortunately without resources no one will ever know just amazing we can be,” he said. “I know we are living in tough economic times, but if our players receive more support we would not only qualify to the World Cup, but we would be competitive. When everyone is healthy, we have great depth in every position. It is the kind of headache any coach would want to have.”
Four-time capped Chavhanga scored six times on debut for the Springboks against Uruguay in 2005, a South Africa record for the most number of tries scored in one game.
Meanwhile, the ZRU has made adjustments to the Sables coaching department, with both Dawson and team manager Jason Maritz retaining their positions.
Former Zimbabwe captain Daniel Hondo has been confirmed as the backline coach, with Liam Middleton staying on as defence coach.South African Graham Knoop, who toured Zimbabwe in 2018 as captain of Cape Town’s False Bay Rugby Club, joins as line-out coach.Harare fitness guru Alice Randall is the team’s new physiotherapist.