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Gems go for strength test in East Africa

THE Zimbabwe senior national netball team coach, Lloyd Makunde, believes the friendly match against the world’s seventh-ranked side, Uganda, this weekend is crucial for them in assessing the ground work they have covered so far ahead of the World Cup in Liverpoool, England, in July.

This year’s Netball World Cup is scheduled to run from July 12 to 21.

The Gems were scheduled to fly out yesterday for Kampala with the Government running around to secure the air tickets.

The friendly match away in the East African country will be the first proper competitive match for the Gems since they got in camp on March 25.

The team has been training at Stodart Netball Complex in Mbare and were playing some local teams in practice matches.

But with two-and-half months before Zimbabwe make their World Cup bow in Liverpool, the team is intensifying their preparations with competitive friendly matches.

The national team has lined up friendly matches with fellow continental teams that are also preparing for the Liverpool finals.

The Gems are also expected to play world fifth-ranked side, South Africa. They are also scheduled to take on Malawi, who are ranked sixth in the world.

Another match against neighbours Zambia who, however, are not among the World Cup finalists but are in the continent’s top five, has also been lined up before the team leaves for England at the beginning of July.

Speaking before their departure for Uganda yesterday, Makunde said the team, which is beginning to get proper action against quality opponents since they last featured at the Diamond League in South Africa last November, have a lot to assess from the four matches in Kampala.

After playing the She-Cranes, Makunde’s troops will also take on the Uganda men’s netball team.

The Gems, who are scheduled to return home early next week, will also get a chance to play two other netball clubs in Uganda.

“These games are very important for us.  Some players are new to international netball and would be playing competitive matches for the first time.

“Playing a team like Uganda, we can really measure where we are. They are a force to reckon with on the continent when it comes to netball. They were seventh or eighth, I am not sure, at the last World Cup, so the competition they will give to us would be really good.

“We will know our strengths and weaknesses, so that by the time we play South Africa in the next friendly match we would have covered a lot of ground in terms of areas to assess.

“This is our first assignment since we got into camp. We have been training with a men’s team here but to prepare for such a big tournament we need to play teams that are ranked higher than us.

“We have some players we would want to see in game situations, players such as Adelaide Muskwe who came from the United Kingdom.

“We have Sharlene Makusha and Stembile Chitiva, who were at the Junior World Championships, who are also doing well and would want to assess them better in a friendly match,” said Makunde.

The Gems’ coach says the team’s progression has been going on well but a series of friendly matches against such opponents as South Africa should really prepare them for the World Cup jamboree.

“So far we are happy. We are progressing as we want. We have a fitness trainer in camp and the fitness is coming up, fitness levels of a World Cup magnitude is something that is not easy, so we are still working on the levels and endurance so that the players are conditioned to the levels we want,” said Makunde.

At the World Cup, Zimbabwe, who are ranked 13th in the world, are in a tough Group A with the world’s top-ranked team Australia, Northern Ireland (eighth-ranked) and Sri Lanka (16th-ranked). Herald

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