JOHANNESBURG – Former South Africa coach Peter de Villiers this weekend suffered an early setback to hopes of leading two countries at the Rugby World Cup when Zimbabwe were held at home by Morocco.
And the enormity of the task facing the Springboks handler at the 2011 World Cup became clear when five-time qualifiers Namibia scored nine tries to rout Uganda.
Zimbabwe and Morocco drew 23-23 in Harare and Namibia triumphed 55-6 in Windhoek as the six-nation African qualifying competition kicked off. The results gave Namibia an early three-point advantage in the standings of a single-round mini-league completed by Kenya and Tunisia.
De Villiers, who in 2007 became the first black coach of South Africa, took them to the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals in New Zealand, where they were unlucky losers to Australia.
He was not offered a renewal of his four-year contract after the World Cup exit and failed to land a high-profile post before being hired by Zimbabwe this year.
De Villiers would have been celebrating a winning start but for disappointing goal-kicking by fly-half Lenience Tambwera, who fluffed a late penalty. Tambwera took the shorter shots at goal and centre Brendon Mandivenga the longer ones, and between them they missed five of 10 attempts.
In a seesaw struggle, Zimbabwe built an early 11-point lead thanks to two tries by debutant full-back Shingirai Katsvere only for Morocco to hit back and lead 16-14 at half-time.
The north Africans, bolstered by a number of France-based players, fell behind again before winger Karim Quadri scored to put ahead 23-20. Tambwera slotted a penalty on 72 minutes to equalise and both sides squandered late chances to win at Harare Sports Club. Next up for Zimbabwe, the lowest ranked of the six African contenders, is a fixture against Kenya in Nairobi on June 30.
Meanwhile, Namibia launched their campaign for a sixth consecutive World Cup appearance by overwhelming Uganda at Hage Geingob Stadium. Coached by former Wales lock Phil Davies, the home team scored four tries in the opening half to turn over 26-3 ahead and added another five after the break.
Winger JC Greyling and hooker Louis van der Westhuizen scored two each but the biggest cheer was reserved for the try by full-back Chrysander Botha on his 50th Test appearance.
In the second round this Saturday, Namibia enjoy home advantage again, this time against Tunisia, and Morocco host Kenya in Casablanca.