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Bishop's Stortford forward Aiden Burnett looking to help Zimbabwe qualify for their first Rugby World Cup since 1991

Bishop's Stortford could have a representative at the next Rugby World Cup if Aiden Burnett's dream comes true.

Earlier this summer the forward helped his country Zimbabwe make progress in the African qualifying section for the 2023 tournament, which will be held in France.

Burnett, who arrived at Silver Leys in May 2020 ahead of the cancelled 2020-21 National League 1 season, was not even born when the Sables last competed in a World Cup 30 years ago.

That long absence could be about to end, however, as the country ranked 34th in the world attempt to reach the 10th edition of the global tournament.

Burnett, 24, was part of the squad that cruised to 101-3 and 95-5 victories over Burkina Faso this summer as they easily topped Pool 2 in qualifying. They had been scheduled to face Tunisia too, but they were forced to withdraw due to the pandemic.

Zimbabwe will now take on Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals as they aim to secure the continent's one direct qualification spot. The runners-up of the qualification stage will go into a four-team final qualification tournament where they face sides from Asia/Pacific, the Americas and Europe.

Bishop's Stortford forward and Zimbabwe international Aiden Burnett. Pic: Vikki Lince (50657646)
Bishop's Stortford forward and Zimbabwe international Aiden Burnett. Pic: Vikki Lince (50657646)

"To play at a Rugby World Cup would be a dream come true," said Burnett, who made his international debut in a Victoria Cup win over Uganda in 2019 and has six caps.

"I think it's every player's dream to go to a World Cup. It would be unbelievable."

Zimbabwe took part in the first World Cup in 1987, which was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. They lost all three pool games to France, Scotland and Romania.

It was a similar story in 1991 – the tournament was jointly hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France – when they were comfortably beaten by Scotland, Ireland and Japan in the group stage.

Burnett was born and raised in Zimbabwe, where he went to St John's College in Harare. He moved to England in 2016 at the age of 19 to attend Hartpury University.

There he played for their British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) team, helping them win the Super Rugby final in 2019.

A year later – and after showing joint head coach Tom Coleman his rugby showreel – he arrived in Stortford, only for the coronavirus crisis to force the cancellation of the 2020-21 season.

Aiden Burnett in his Hartpury College days
Aiden Burnett in his Hartpury College days

He returned home to Zimbabwe and came back to Stortford last month. After 10 days in quarantine, he was finally able to pull on the blue shirt for the first time when he featured in the friendly against Bury St Edmunds on August 14.

"Tom Coleman messaged me and was like, 'Send over your videos'. I did and then he offered me a contract," said Burnett, who usually operates at No 8.

"Everyone's been so nice and been very welcoming. It's been a good experience so far."

Now Burnett, who is sponsored by Coleman's Farm, can turn his attention to making up for lost time and helping Stortford finish as high up the table as possible.

"Hopefully we'll be right up the top there," he said. "I'm sure we would be and looking to probably finish in the top five I think."

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