Germany are up to 22nd in the World Rugby Rankings, matching their highest ever position, after leaving it late to inflict a first home defeat on Kenya for nearly three years.
Fly-half Chris Hilsenbeck was the hero of the day in Nairobi after he kicked a drop goal with the last act of the game for a 30-29 win. Up until then, Germany had dominated in the set-piece but it was Kenya who largely commanded the scoreboard, having led 12-3 at the end of the first quarter and then 26-15 around the hour mark.
With influential number eight Martin Owila in the sin bin for a high tackle, Kenya came under intense pressure in the latter stages, but it looked as if they would hold on until Hilsenbeck struck.
Germany had taken a first-minute lead from the boot of Raynor Parkinson only for Kenya to respond with tries from Eric Kerre, after good work in the build-up from Owila, and captain Wilson K’Opondo, the latter converted by Darwin Mukidza.
Germany then used their powerful lineout maul to clinical effect, resulting in a try for Eric Marks which Parkinson improved to make it a two-point game, 12-10 to Kenya, at the interval.
Three minutes into the second half Germany went ahead after they pounced on a spilt pass in midfield to work a try for Kehoma Brenner. But the advantage was short-lived as Kenya scored two more tries – both converted by Mukidza – through Samson Onsomu and David Ambunya, the second a wonderful team effort that started from a turnover in their own 22.
Germany were not giving up the fight easily, though, and Sean Armstrong crossed for a converted try before Mukidza kicked a penalty to make the score 29-22 to the home side.
When Harris Aounallah touched down with less than 10 minutes to play, it was all eyes on Hilsenbeck. Instead of levelling the scores though, the fly-half pushed his conversion attempt wide.
Germany failed to turn their dominance into points against the short-handed Kenyans, Hilsenbeck and Jamie Murphy both missing shots at goal as the clock ticked down, But just when it looked as though their chance of victory had gone, they managed to work one last attacking position for Hilsenbeck, who held his nerve to bring about a successful conclusion to what he later described as "the hardest match I've ever played in."
The victory was worth 1.39 rating points to Germany, which is enough to lift them three places, above their vanquished opponents and Canada and Portugal into 22nd place, a position they last achieved back in March.
CZECHS MARCH ON
Rugby Europe Trophy winners Portugal lie in wait for the Czech Republic in the next stage of the European qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019 after the Czechs saw off Hungary 47-19.
With more than 40 places separating the Czechs from Hungary in the rankings, the scoreline came as little surprise to the majority of those in attendance at the sun-baked Tatra Smíchov Stadium in Prague.
Backs Adam Soural, Jiří Pantůček, Aleš Stejskal and Zbyněk Schütz scored first-half tries in addition to one from number eight Marek Loutocký as the Czechs led 33-12 at the break. Both of Hungary’s tries came from outside centre Mark Stiglmayer.
Hungary closed the gap to just two scores eight minutes after the restart when flanker Andrew Zair crossed the line and the versatile Martin Sacase, who had switched from fly-half to scrum-half for this match, added the conversion.
The score stayed at 33-19 until the 65th minute when Loutocký bagged his second try. Pantůček did likewise with five minutes to go to round off a good win that had no impact on the Czechs’ ranking.
They do, however, drop a place to 32nd after the half a point that Brazil picked up for beating Paraguay 57-6 in the Sudamérica Rugby A Championship took them above the Czechs.
Uruguay were once again crowned Sudamérica Rugby A Championship winners following a 27-11 victory over Chile in the title-deciding game in Montevideo. They gain five-hundredths of a point as a result of the win but that still leaves them just under a point short of supplanting Russia in the world’s top 20.
Meanwhile, in the Rugby Americas North Championship, Trinidad and Tobago full-back Jamal Stewart crossed twice as the Calypso Warriors beat Barbados 47-19 in the rain in Marabella.
A drop goal and a penalty from Barbadian fly-half Kevin Carter had given the visitors an early lead, but once Stewart pounced for his first try after 26 minutes the home side took charge to post six tries in total, with the final scoreline reflecting the 31-place gap in the rankings between the teams. In the only other Rugby Americas North Championship game played this weekend, Mexico accounted for USA South 36-29.
SECONDS OUT FOR KOREA?
Meanwhile, Hong Kong are up to two places to 25th in the rankings after their six-try, 43-17 away win against Korea in Yesan came with a 1.8-point reward. Korea drop one to 29th.
The victory also gives Hong Kong the advantage in the tussle for second place in the Asia Rugby Championship ahead of the final round on Saturday. They are now on five points in the overall standings with Korea stuck on one.
Jamie Hood converted tries from James Cunningham, Tyler Spitz and Lex Kaleca as Hong Kong built up a 21-0 lead before Korea got a score of their own on 36 minutes through Kim Gwong Min. Hood, however, ensured Hong Kong had the final say of the first half with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Yiu Kam-shing secured the try bonus point for Hong Kong three minutes after the break before Spitz scored his second try of the match, and third of the championship, shortly thereafter to put the game well and truly to bed. Winger Ally Maclay outsprinted the defence for Hong Kong’s sixth, and Hood’s only unsuccessful conversion attempt of the day left the score at 43-5.
Korea came back to score two tries in the final quarter and briefly threatened to collect the bonus point, but Hong Kong’s defence held strong, leaving the final score at 43-17.
Photo credits: Martin Flousek (Czech Republic v Hungary); Kenji Demura/RJP (Korea v Hong Kong)