Namibia tightened their grip on top spot in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2018 as the tournament got back under way on Saturday following a four-week break.
The Gold Cup this year doubles as the African qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2019, and Namibia’s bonus-point 58-28 defeat of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo means they keep their necks in front of second-placed Kenya in the race for the Africa 1 place in Pool B in Japan.
Kenya face Tunisia in Nairobi next weekend and must realistically secure all five points if they are to keep pressure on the southern African side.
Elsewhere, Uganda eased their relegation fears as they secured a first victory of the competition, beating Tunisia 67-12 in Kampala. Full-back Philip Wokorach was the standout performer as he scored a hat-trick of tries and finished the match with 37 points overall.
Uganda's victory earned them just over ninth tenths of a rating point, enough to lift them one place to 36th in the World Rugby Rankings when they update at 12 noon BST on Monday and condemn Tunisia to a three-place fall to 43rd. Namibia's win was worth only seven hundredths so they remain 23rd with Zimbabwe stationary in 45th.
Zimbabwe 28-58 Namibia
Namibia put themselves within 80 minutes of a sixth successive Rugby World Cup appearance with a bonus-point 58-28 victory over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
Phil Davies will prepare his side for their final Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2018 match, against Kenya in Windhoek in a fortnight, knowing that victory in that game will book their ticket to Japan 2019.
If it wasn’t already, qualification is now firmly in Namibia’s hands, but they were made to work hard for victory against a spirited Zimbabwean side on Saturday.
Despite taking an early seven-point lead, the Gold Cup pace-setters were pegged back within the first 15 minutes as home back-row Connor Pritchard crashed over to level the scores.
Namibia fly-half Cliven Loubser soon edged the visitors back in front from the kicking tee, though, and following a tight opening 20 minutes they began to show their class.
PJ van Lill showed good pace and power to stride over from the base of a scrum and before the half-hour mark Namibia had scored their third try of the match as replacement winger Johann Greyling produced a fine finish on the right wing.
Loubser converted both scores, and after Zimbabwe fly-half Brandon Mandivenga had missed a penalty attempt, the Namibian playmaker added another three points to give his side a 20-point lead at half-time.
The hosts could feel slightly aggrieved to find themselves so far behind at the break, but as the second period got under way their task got even tougher. Within three minutes of the restart Wian Conradie had been played into space by a brilliant offload from van Lill and the replacement back-row made no mistake, cantering over to score.
Loubser again converted and it looked as though the game was won. What followed was a see-saw 35 minutes in which the two sides traded seven tries.
Following an electric break from hooker David Makanda it was Zimbabwe who scored next, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo spotting a gap and racing through it to give the home fans hope. That feeling lasted less than five minutes, however, as Namibia’s impressive hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld burrowed over from close range.
In fitting fashion for what was becoming a roller-coaster contest, Zimbabwe went straight up the other end and their replacement hooker Mathew Mandioma crossed the try line within three minutes.
A try-less 10 minutes, in which Greyling was sent to the sin-bin, followed before a breathless finish in which the visitors’ superior fitness told. Namibia second-row Tijuee Uaniye and Zimbabwe winger Shayne Makombe traded tries, before Louis van der Westhuizen and Johan Tromp both scored for the visitors in the final five minutes.
Uganda 67-12 Tunisia
Uganda full-back Philip Wokorach scored 37 points, including a hat-trick of tries, as Uganda recovered from a sloppy start to win convincingly in Kampala.
Tunisia had been on the receiving end of a heavy defeat at the Kyadondo Rugby Club last year but began brightly on Satuday.
Jaco Stoumann’s side took advantage of a scrappy start to score the game’s first try, as Hossem Khalfi scythed through a hole in the home defence following a scrum. The full-back missed the conversion, however, and his profligacy from the kicking tee would soon prove costly.
With Tunisia on the front foot, and Uganda hooker Paul Sekate in the sin-bin, Khalfi missed a presentable penalty with 20 minutes gone and from that moment the hosts took control.
Wokorach converted two three-pointers, either side of a yellow card for Tunisia prop Mohamed Yassine Ben Abdallah, to give Uganda the lead for the first time.
Uganda then showed their visitors how to take full advantage of a numerical advantage, scoring three tries in the final five minutes of the opening half – through Pius Ogena, Michael Okorach and captain Asuman Mugerwa – to take a 25-5 lead into the break.
Any hope that Tunisia had of a fight-back was sapped within a minute of the restart as Mugerwa bulldozed his way over, straight from the kick-off.
Tunisia managed to keep Uganda at bay for the next 15 minutes, before Wokorach – Uganda’s stand-out player in Kampala – broke their resolve following a fine pass from Justin Kimono.
It was the start of a wonderful 10 minutes for the Uganda full-back, in which he scored three brilliant tries – the third a fine solo effort finished off with an outrageous side-step to beat Tunisia number eight Yahya Graa.
It was cruel on Graa, who three minutes earlier had combined with Mohamed Achref Dhif to send the scrum-half over in the right corner for Tunisia’s second try. But it would get no better for the visitors as Ugandan replacements Solomon Okia (pictured) and Ian Munyani both crossed the whitewash in the final 12 minutes to add some gloss to the scoreline.
“For the first 20 minutes we were under pressure but we stuck to our game plan,” Uganda captain Mugerwa said afterwards. “Once we got how they played we took them on.”
Photo: APO Group