x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Attending fans lift Zimbabwe

While the majority of spectators were still contending with rush hour traffic, the bank adjacent to the halfway line had turned into a Zimbabwe enclave for the opening match.

Zimbabwe fans wave flags in support of their team during yesterday's match against Wales.
Zimbabwe fans wave flags in support of their team during yesterday's match against Wales.

DUBAI // The grassy banks alongside Pitch One were not exactly heaving when Bernard Lapasset, the IRB president, struck a sweet, left-footed drop-kick to signify the start of the World Cup Sevens, but one set of supporters had turned out in force. While the majority of spectators were still contending with rush hour traffic back in the city, the bank adjacent to the halfway line had turned into a Zimbabwe enclave for the opening match. As their flags fluttered in the strong cross-breeze, it was soon apparent that their compatriots on the field had their work cut out against Wales.

To even reach this point, the Zimbabweans have had to rely on a groundswell of support and goodwill. As a consequence of hyper- inflation and the cholera outbreak, food has been scarce and bottled water expensive. Their countrymen expatriated in Dubai clubbed together to raise funds for transport, accommodation and food during their stay for their followers. "It is very humbling to see so many people coming in support of us. It is great," said their coach Liam Middleton.

His side still entered the tournament with high hopes of causing an upset, but went down 31-5 in yesterday's opener against the Welsh. Danny Hondo, the brother of the Zimbabwe international cricketer Douglas, scored their try. "It is a hard one to understand from the outside, but any victory for us would be a massive success," added Middleton. "If we won a World Cup medal - a Bowl or any other trophy - that is a huge success if you look at where we have come from and the things we face.

"If we achieve that it will be a massive success, and what happens afterwards is all a bonus really." Zimbabwe's struggles are put into context by the riches afforded to sides like England, whose every training session is monitored by GPS and heart-rate machines. After the loss to Wales, Jacques Leitao, the Cheetahs forward, said of the accessories: "Those things are all nice add-ons, but I'm not sure how much it effects you in the game knowing how many miles you run.

"It is probably nice to know, but it is not going to decide the winning and losing of many games. "We will have to concentrate on finishing in second place now and later on we want to try to walk away with some silverware of some sort." pradley@thenational.ae Crowds enjoy carnival atmosphere a2. Plus all the results and news from last night's late games at the World Cup.