Picture Perfect

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A “legendary” rugby player “with an infectious smile” died after being trapped in his car when it burst into flames.

Sanele Sibanda, 29 and nicknamed ‘Smiley’, crashed his Ford Focus into a tree on Sutton Road, Hull, on May 1, 2020.

Mr Sibanda had represented his country Zimbabwe at the 2015 World Cup and had played for Hull RUFC during his time in the city pursuing his university degree.

An inquest heard how it was found that the vehicle had defects as the tread depth of the front tyre was worn below the legal limit.

But this isn’t believed to have been the cause of the crash and no other causes or cars were involved, so it was determined that it happened due to the “actions or inactions” of the driver.

Mr Sibanda was “a God-fearing” man who never took drugs and “only very occasionally took alcohol”, Hull Coroners’ Court heard.

His crash was recorded as road traffic collision.

Heartbreaking tributes were paid to him, including by Zimbabwe national coach Brendon Dawson, who described him as “a gentle, ferocious rugby giant, ever-smiling, unassuming, humble, high work ethic, hardworking, extremely talented and disciplined player”.

He added: “Sanele was a true embodiment of resurgence of the Sables. He will be sadly missed. Rest easy Gentle Giant Smiley.”

An inquest heard that Mr Sibanda came from a large family and had twin brothers as well as a sister and a talent for sports.

Coroner, Professor Paul Marks said: “Sanele was from Zimbabwe and an international rugby player. He came to the United Kingdom to further his university education in Hull.

“Due to his rugby playing ability and skill, he was legendary and prominent in his country’s history of sport.

“He was a God-fearing man and never indulged in any taking of illicit drugs and very occasionally took alcohol.”

After Mr Sibanda’s tragic crash, a collision investigation was carried out by police.

Professor Marks said: “On the night of May 1, 2020, the Ford Focus which Sanele was driving was heading towards Beverley Road on Sutton Road, at which point the vehicle left the carriageway and collided with a nearby tree.

“Following the impact, the vehicle caught fire with Sanele trapped inside the vehicle, and as a result he sustained the injuries that proved fatal.”

Mr 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 in 2010.

Fellow player Biselele Tshamala, who started playing with Sibanda during their high school days at Plumtree High, posted on the Zimbabwe Rugby Union’s social media pages to say he was “heartbroken” by the sudden death of his friend.

“My brother, schoolmate, playmate, teammate, my Sable. The sad news of your passing was heart wrenching and it tore right to my core,” he wrote.

“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.”