Kenya shock Namibia to boost World Cup hopes
Kenya have taken a big step towards qualifying for their first-ever Rugby World Cup with an impressive 29-22 victory over Namibia in the opening round of matches in the African Nations Cup in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Saturday.
Pre-tournament favourites Namibia – the highest ranked team in the tournament and World Cup ever-presents since 1999 – raced into a 12-0 lead thanks to two tries from left wing Heinrich Smit and a conversion from Willem Kotze.
Kenya were struggling in most aspects of play, particularly the set-piece, and found it hard to contain Namibia's rampaging newcomer Renaldo Bothma in the loose.
But Kenya dug in to prevent any further scores and their fortunes turned when Namibia prop Jaco Engels’ was shown a yellow card in the 38th minute.
On the stroke of half-time Kenya used their one-man advantage to drive over one of their Rugby Sevens contingent, Humphrey Khayange, for a try which was converted by Lavin Asego.
Kenya scored a further 12 points while Namibia were short-handed, flanker Michael Okombe being joined on the scoresheet by scrum half Edward Achayo. With Asego landing his second conversion Kenya found themselves 19-12 up with the second half six minutes old.
However Namibia hit back to level the scores when full back Chrysander Botha scored a try that Kotze converted.
Kotze and his opposite number Asego then traded penalties before Sevens skipper Andrew Amonde came off the bench to score the match winner with 16 minutes to go.
“I really don’t know what happened to us. We just lost it somehow. I am really disappointed,” reflected Namibia captain PJ van Lill.
Zim begin with big win
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s England 2015 ambitions remain on track after defeating hosts Madagascar 57-22 in front of a capacity crowd in the Rugby-mad capital.
There was only one score in it at the break as Madagascar delighted the 25,000 capacity crowd in the Mahamasina Stadium by running at every opportunity and producing some moments of magic.
“For about 15 minutes in the first half they hardly put a foot wrong and produced some sublime moments of rugby. If they could have maintained it throughout the game the outcome could have been different,” observed Tournament Director Jean-Luc Barthes.
But Zimbabwe, who have not featured at Rugby’s showcase event since 1991, got their tactics just about right, nullifying the home side's potent counter attacking threat for the most part before going on to produce a blistering second-half performance that earned them a precious bonus-point win.
Experienced back-rower Jacques Leitao was the star of the show with four of the Sables’ nine tries, the other scores coming from Stephen Hunduza (2), Lambert Groenewald, Riaan O’Neill and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo.
Namibia and Madagascar will need to beat Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively on Wednesday to realistically keep their World Cup qualification hopes alive. The winner of the three-round tournament will join New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia in Pool C, while the runner-up will face Russia for a place in the Repechage Final later this year.
Meanwhile, the match officials for the final two rounds have been confirmed. On Wednesday, Zimbabwe v Namibia will be refereed by Argentina’s Francisco Pastrana, while Luke Pearce will handle Madagascar v Kenya. Sunday's match between Kenya and Zimababwe will be overseen by South African referee Lourens van den Merwe, with Francisco Pastrana of Argentina taking charge of Madagascar v Namibia.
The Webb Ellis Cup will visit Madagascar for the first time ahead of the decisive round of matches on 6 July as part of the official Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, presented by DHL and Land Rover and its arrival is eagerly anticipated.