Sibanda (29), popularly known as Smiley, died last Friday in a car accident in the United Kingdom where he was playing club rugby for Hull RUFC.
Dawson described Sibanda as a “gentle, ferocious rugby giant, ever-smiling, unassuming, humble, high work ethic, hardworking, extremely talented and disciplined player”. He said Sibanda was a versatile member of the Sables, who cemented his position in the team with his aerial ball retention acumen and hard hitting runs and crunching tackles.
“Sanele was a true embodiment of resurgence of the Sables. He will be sadly missed. Rest easy Gentle Giant Smiley,” said Dawson.
Sibanda was part of the Sables’ squad that played in the 2015 World Cup qualifiers and also represented the country in the SARU Gold Cup and Africa Cup. Sibanda was an ex-Old Miltonians and Matabeleland Warriors player, who also had stints with Durban Harlequins and College Rovers in South Africa.
Sables and Cheetahs player Biselele Tshamala, who started playing with Sibanda during their high school days at Plumtree High, said he is “heartbroken” by the sudden death of his friend.
“My brother, schoolmate, play mate, teammate, my Sable. The sad news of your passing was heart wrenching and it tore right to my core. From the Plumtree fields to the international stadiums, we have trudged along together, you were always motivating us to take our game to the next level, ever smiling, ever jovial character. Big hit after big hit you always kept the infectious smile on your face. Ever optimistic in adversity. You will be sadly missed in the dressing room. Rest easy Bhubesi,” wrote Tshamala on the Zimbabwe Rugby Union’s social media pages.
Sables’ manager John Maritz sent the team’s condolences to Sibanda’s family.
“On behalf of the Sables family, we would like to extend our deepest sympathies and respect to Sanele’s family and friends. It’s never easy to say goodbye, it hurts when you cry, but the good Lord has blessed his soul and he now lives with the most High. “Smiley, to say that we are deeply saddened by your untimely passing is an understatement. None of us will know why you had to leave us so soon, but your friendship will leave a lasting impression on many of our lives. We, your Sables family, thank you for running your race and sharing your story with us. We will miss you and your big smile,” said Maritz.
ZRU vice-president (Southern Region) Martin Shone said Sibanda was an inspiration to young rugby players. “Being a national team player comes with great responsibilities and Smiley’s exemplary behaviour was an inspiration to young rugby players.
“A number of up-and-coming youngsters always dream of playing in the national team and to see someone from their area up there gives them hope that it’s possible to scale the ladder. Smiley did that, and may his soul rest in peace,” Shone said.