Despite scoring 44 tries and only conceding five at the other end to top the Rugby Africa Gold Cup table with a perfect record, Namibia coach Phil Davies is too experienced to take anything for granted when his side take on Kenya in Windhoek on Saturday for a place at Rugby World Cup 2019.
The Welwitschias are three points clear of their Rugby Africa Gold Cup title rivals and so only need to avoid defeat on home soil to book their place at Japan 2019 alongside New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the Repechage Winner in Pool B.
Namibia and Kenya are no strangers to Rugby Africa Gold Cup shootouts as last year’s meeting in Windhoek in the penultimate round of the region’s top-tier competition also decided the title. And while the Welwitschias comfortably came out on top that day, 45-7, to take their tally of wins over the Simbas to eight in 10 outings, Welshman Davies expects a big challenge from Saturday’s visitors.
“Kenya are a very good team who are well coached by Ian (Snook) and have good players, as have we, and hopefully it’ll be a good showcase for African rugby. Kenya are playing well and it’s going to be a tough game," Davies said.
“They’ve come here the last couple of years feeling that they can beat us, and while there is a bit more riding on this match, the challenge is still the same. We know what we need to do, and the boys will be on the job.
“We’ve got quality and experience, but you never know, in a two-horse race, the bounce of the ball or a referee’s decision could go against you.”
Even so, it would be a major surprise if Namibia did not qualify as the region’s champions and make it to a sixth straight Rugby World Cup tournament, without having to negotiate the four-team global repechage tournament in Marseille in November – the fate that will befall the Gold Cup’s second-placed side.
“We’re in a good position and it would be a huge achievement for us to return to the World Cup and line up in Pool B alongside the All Blacks, South Africa, Italy and the Repechage Winner. We’ve been African champions for the last three years and we want to make it four in a row and go to Japan unbeaten.
“We’ve had a four-year cycle of continuity since the last World Cup whereas, after previous tournaments, everything stopped for a couple of years. That has allowed up to build up our strength in depth and have greater options in key positions. We picked up our first point at the World Cup in 2015 and the aim if we make it next year is to pick up our first win.
“If we qualify, there is a real opportunity for the country to move forward as a rugby nation.”
Meanwhile, Kenya coach Ian Snook knows it will take a complete 80-minute performance from his side if they are to beat Namibia for only the third time in history and qualify for their first Rugby World Cup.
Kenya’s Gold Cup campaign got off to a slow start with a nervy 28-24 win away to Morocco but, since then, they have racked up the points against Zimbabwe (45-36), Uganda (38-22) and Tunisia (67-0) to set up Saturday’s decider.
“Our hopes and aspirations are that we play really well and piece together 80 minutes of what has only been seen for 40 or so minutes in the other games. It has been difficult with no warm-up games and going in cold for one-off test matches,” said Snook.
“The Tunisian game provided a bit of everything which the players will learn from. I’m expecting that the players are ready for an 80-minute effort and are really looking forward to it.”
The match will be streamed live on www.rugbyworldcup.com and @rugbyworldcup social platforms.