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Namibia had to overcome a 16-point first-half deficit to beat Zimbabwe 31-26 in the latest round of Rugby Africa Gold Cup matches, while title contenders Kenya and Uganda had far more comfortable victories at home to Senegal and Tunisia respectively.
After scoring two converted tries and three penalties in a dominant first half at the Hage Geingob Stadium in Windhoek on Saturday, the Sables could not maintain the same levels of intensity after the break and the hosts ran in four unanswered tries to make it three wins from three in this year’s competition following earlier victories over Tunisia and Senegal.
Before the tournament Namibia coach Phil Davies warned that his side would not have it all their own way in the region’s top-tier competition, which also serves as a vehicle for Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification, and that proved to be the case against the inspired Sables on Saturday.
Damian Stevens’ converted try, following an earlier penalty from the boot of Zimbabwe fly-half Tichafara Makwanya, gave Namibia a 7-3 lead.
But the Sables were soon back in front when scrum-half Hilton Mudariki scored a great solo try. Makwanya added the extras and then kicked a penalty before winger Takudza Comodoro sprinted home from 40 metres on the stroke of half-time for the Zimbabwe’s second try of the match. With Makwanya knocking over the simplest of conversions, Zimbabwe led 20-7 at the break.
A third penalty from Makwanya put the Sables three scores in front before Namibia upped the ante with tries from centre Darryl de la Harpe and winger Gino Wilson. Eugene Jantjies’ poor form from the kicking tee continued as he missed both conversions to leave Namibia trailing 23-17.
Makwanya’s fourth penalty increased Zimbabwe’s advantage to nine points but tries from JC Greyling and Johan Tromp spared Namibia from a first defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in 16 years.
Namibia’s 10th straight win over Zimbabwe did not carry any rating points due to the 9.11-point gap between the nations in the World Rugby Rankings, leaving the sides 21st and 35th respectively.
Uganda now have Zimbabwe in their sights from a rankings point of view following their 78-17 win over relegation-threatened Tunisia.
Phillip Wokorach led the way with a hat-trick and 16 points from the tee as the Rugby Cranes put 12 tries on their opponents in Kampala.
The 12-try victory lifts Uganda up two places in the rankings to 36th, above both Moldova and Ukraine, and they are now just one place and 0.87 of a point behind the Sables and five places shy of their best-ever position.
Kenya stay second in the Gold Cup standings, however, after Darwin Mukidza’s hat-trick thwarted a determined effort from Senegal, who earned their first point of the campaign after scoring four tries in the 45-25 loss in Nairobi.
Unrecognisable from the side that lost 95-0 to Namibia the week before, Senegal turned in a much better performance to only trail by two scores at the break.
A Mukidza double and tries from Josh Chisanga and Dennis Muhanji helped Kenya into a 24-10 half-time lead, with Senegal’s points coming via Steve Sargos' converted try and a penalty.
After a subdued start to the second half, Kenya put together a well-worked move finished off by David Ambunya and Mukidza converted to put the Simbas 31-10 up.
Sargos temporarily stemmed the flow of points with a second penalty before Kenya’s replacement hooker Philip Ikambili crossed the whitewash for his maiden international try.
A brace from Georges Mendy, either side of Mukidza’s hat-trick score, ensured Senegal finished with something to show for their efforts at the RFUEA Grounds.
As an added bonus, Senegal move into the world’s top 50 after Tunisia’s heavy defeat to Uganda cost them just over six tenths and a drop of three places to 51st.
The only other game to affect the rankings came in Apia where a 38-16 defeat at home to Fiji not only cost Samoa the chance to qualify for RWC 2019 as Oceania 2 but also 0.69 of a rating point.
Having seen their rating score fall below 70 points, they are fall below Romania to their lowest ever position of 16th. Four wins in a row have seen Fiji close to only two-tenths of ninth-ranked Argentina, the victory over Samoa ensuring a successful defence of the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup in 2017.