The Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2017 title will be on the line in Windhoek on Saturday after defending champions Namibia and nearest rivals Kenya won well at the weekend to pull clear of the rest of the field.
Namibia ended third-placed Uganda’s unbeaten start to the campaign with a 48-24 victory at the Legends Sports Ground in Kampala and have yet to drop a point in their first four outings in a tournament that forms part of Africa's qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019.
With a maximum 20 points from 20, the Welwitschias are two points clear of Kenya, who beat Zimbabwe 41-22 on their first visit to Bulawayo in 13 years.
Uganda started the brightest and kept the ball long enough to prise open the Welwitschias' defence and work an early try for Asuman Mugerwa’s which Philip Wokorach converted.
Namibia hit back with a penalty from Cliven Loubser before Justin Newman silenced the home crowd when he took an inside pass from JC Greyling to score a try which Loubser converted.
A penalty from Wokorach ensured the scores were level at 10-10 at the end of the first quarter, but a two-try salvo from Namibia left the Rugby Cranes with a mountain to climb in the ‘City of Seven Hills.’
Good handling set Damian Stevens on a clear run to the line before Johann Tromp turned on the after-burners to score their third after a Ugandan move had broken down on their own 10-metre line.
Turning around with a 22-10 advantage, Namibia pulled further ahead when a grubber kick from Loubser bounced kindly into the arms of Newman who dotted down for his second under the posts.
With the bonus-point in the bag, Namibia started to play with more confidence and a quick transfer of the ball along the backline resulted in a fifth try in the left corner through David Philander.
The partisan home support found their voice again when Eric Mula and the pacey Wokorach responded with tries for Uganda. At this point the hosts looked on their way back into the game with only 10 points separating the sides at 34-24, but Namibia killed off the game with tries from replacement front-row Collen Smith and Gino Wilson.
As well as cementing their place at the top of the Gold Cup standings, Namibia’s third win over Uganda in four meetings was worth nearly half a rating point in the World Rugby Rankings, increasing their tally to 60.73 points. While not enough to take them back into the world’s top 20, they are now less than two-and-a-half points behind Russia in 21st place.
SIMBAS UP ONE
Prolific marksman Darwin Mukidza converted all five of Kenya’s tries and slotted two penalties in a win over Zimbabwe that lifts the Simbas one place in the rankings to 25th, above Portugal, after a gain of 1.05 points. Zimbabwe and Uganda drop a place in defeat, to 36th and 27th respectively.
The Sables put up another spirited show, though, twice edging in front of the visitors in the early exchanges.
Mukidza booted Kenya ahead with a penalty before nippy Hilton Mudariki, attacking from the base, prised open the Simbas’ defence to touch down with Tichafara Makwanya converting to make it 7-3 to the Sables.
The hosts were enjoying the bulk of territory and possession, but the Simbas came off the ropes to score a try through Sam Onsomu after a smart offload from Peter Karia.
Takudzwa Kumadiro’s sixth try of the Gold Cup campaign put Zimbabwe back in front at 12-10 but Kenya took the lead for the third time when Davis Chenge was driven over from a lineout. Mukidza’s second conversion of the match gave the Kenyans a 17-12 advantage at the break.
Moses Amusala opened Kenya’s second half account, with Mukidza converting to make it 24-12, but the hosts responded through Makwanya’s penalty and Daniel Caspopoulous' converted try to come to within two points as they continued to starve Kenya of possession.
As was the case in the first half, the Simbas were slow to settle into a rhythm but they eventually found their stride, after surviving incessant pressure from the hosts. Martin Owila scored off the back of another maul, Mukikdza converting for a 31-22 score before Wilson Kopondo exploited passive Zimbabwean defending, carrying the ball 20 metres for a try which was once again turned into seven points with the conversion.
Mukidza kicked his second penalty of the match to bring about the final scoreline of 41-22 to the Simbas.
“Today the game was about patience and playing the game in the right areas and the guys stuck to their guns,” said Kenya coach Jerome Paarwater.