Defending champions Namibia were the big winners on the opening day of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2018, their 55-6 defeat of Uganda in Windhoek comfortably putting them in pole position in the race to qualify as Africa 1 for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
The nine-try Namibians, chasing a sixth successive qualification for the World Cup and a spot in Pool B alongside defending champions New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the repechage winner, stole a big round one march on Zimbabwe, the 1987 and 1991 qualifiers who were held to a 23-23 draw by Morocco in Harare.
Zimbabwe spurned the chance to clinch the win in former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ first game in charge after missing a last-gasp penalty, an error that left Phil Davies’ impressive, bonus-point earning Namibia three points clear in the standings after the first weekend of matches.
Bidding for an unprecedented fifth consecutive title, Namibia next host Tunisia in round two next Saturday, the same day rivals Kenya open their campaign away to Morocco in Casablanca.
NAMIBIA 55-6 UGANDA
Title favourites Namibia successfully opened their defence of the Gold Cup by easing past Uganda in a one-sided encounter in Windhoek.
The result was decided before the half-hour mark, the home side pouncing for their third and fourth tries when the visitors were in yellow card trouble.
They then convincingly pushed on in the second half, adding five more tries to confirm a comfortable victory.
Victorious coach Davies will be pleased with his team’s clinical nine-try effort, as just 14 first-half minutes were needed to put John Duncan’s Uganda firmly on the backfoot.
Powerful flanker Janco Venter was unstoppable when touching down alongside the posts after 10 minutes, while JC Greyling supplied an equally efficient finish in the corner four minutes later.
There was no let-up with hooker Obert Nortje burrowing his way over off a lineout maul on 19 minutes before captain Johan Deysel secured the try bonus point when he dotted down 10 minutes later as Namibia took advantage of the Ugandan indiscipline that led to Saul Kivumbi getting yellow carded.
The visitors at least got on the board before the interval with James Ijongat landing a penalty. However, other than a second kick from the fly-half 12 minutes into the second half, there was no further interruption to Namibia’s complete control.
Another lineout maul was the catalyst for the first of their tries in the second half, replacement hooker Louis van der Westhuizen tagging on at the back of a rampant drive to the line.
Wian Conradie and Greyling added further tries before a 67th minute score for Chrysander Botha, on the occasion of his 50th test, generated the loudest cheer of the day. A second try for van der Westhuizen capped off the win for Namibia.
ZIMBABWE 23-23 MOROCCO
A scrappy opener in Harare culminated in a nerve-shredding conclusion, Zimbabwe’s Lenience Tambwera missing the last-gasp penalty that would have dramatically won the match for the hosts.
Morocco had kicked the ball into touch from scrum possession thinking time was up. However, there were still some seconds to play and with the visitors illegally collapsing the resulting lineout maul, Tambwera was given an opportunity off the tee to clinch the spoils.
The fly-half failed to break the stalemate, though, his miss mirroring the contest’s early second-half exchanges where multiple penalty chances went untaken by both teams.
With Morocco leading 16-14 following a first half that featured three tries, nerves got the better of the kickers in the early stages after the break.
Brendon Mandivenga and Tambwera missed for Zimbabwe, who in total squandered four of seven penalty attempts, while Hmidouch Chakir was twice off target for the visitors. The excitement levels picked up from there, however.
Zimbabwe’s Denford Mutamangira was excellent, holding up Morad Akkaoui over the line to prevent a try and with Morocco unable to create off the ensuing five-metre scrum, the hosts’ counter forced the penalty that Tambwera landed from in front of the posts on 60 minutes for the lead.
He kicked another plenty seven minutes later to make it 20-16, but Quadri Karim then stripped replacement prop Gabriel Sipapate and the Morocco winger raced in for a try converted by Chakir that had the visitors scenting victory.
Tambwera levelled it up at 23-23 with a kick, but late misses from Mandivenga and Tambwera were to leave Zimbabwe frustrated with a home draw in a tournament where three of their remaining four matches will be away.
De Villiers’ side had earlier enjoyed a promising 14-3 first-half advantage, a brace of tries from fleet-footed full-back Shingirai Katsvere putting them in a strong position after 29 minutes.
However, they then lost concentration and went in at the interval trailing after Ismail Nassik’s try was followed by a conversion and two penalties from Chakir.