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Namibia away from home not invincible; Rugby Afrique fixtures bias exposed in Nairobi

 

Kenya v Namibia rugby (head-to-head and venues):

A – L, 18-08-2018: Namibia 53-28 Kenya (Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek) – 2019 Rugby World Cup decider

A – L, 29-07-2017: Namibia 45-7 Kenya (Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek)

A – L, 16-07-2016: Namibia 56-21 Kenya (Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek)

A – L, 08-08-2015: Namibia 46-13 Kenya (Hage Geingob Rugby Stadium, Windhoek)

*A – W, 28-06-2014: Kenya 29-22 Namibia (Antananarivo, Madagascar) – 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifier

A –  L, 28-08-2012: Namibia 39-11 Kenya (Harare, Zimbabwe)

H – -, 12-11-2011: Kenya v Namibia (Nairobi) Namibia withdrew

A – L, 27-05-2006: Namibia 84-12 Kenya (Windhoek)

*H – W, 02-09-2006: Kenya 30-26 Namibia (Nairobi)

A – L, 11-09-2006: Namibia 65-7 Kenya (Windhoek)

H – L, 16-08-2003: Kenya 10-32 Namibia (Nairobi)

 A = Away; H = Home; L = Lost; W = Won; * Kenyan wins (1 Away, 1 Home)

KENYA are in the World Cup of a rugby tournament. Their Under-20 team on Saturday beat Namibia 21-18 in Nairobi to qualify for the second time, this time after three failed attempts. Kenya will now take part in the 16-team 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy to be hosted by Brazil – at Estádio Martins Pereira in São José dos Campos — from July 9 to July 21.

Kenya U20 stand-off half Michele Pier Paolo Brighetti in the Barthes Cup 2019 action

Kenya U20 stand-off half Michele Pier Paolo Brighetti in the Barthes Cup 2019 action

It was a gigantic climb by the Kenyan boys in a caliber of competition, just a tier away for the Rugby World Cup. Playing at home helped; the passionate backing by compatriots tipping the scale. Then the tale of Kenya’s earlier campaign in the young men’s tournament and the main Rugby World Cup (RWC) came unfolding. Are there foundations to the claim that — the much-maligned in these environs — Rugby Afrique previously failed to provide a level playing field and “fixed” Africa Cup and RWC qualifiers to favour Namibia?

The recent three qualifying tournaments for the junior world cup were held in Namibia. Kenya did not make it. That’s fine. Maybe Namibia were the only bidding hosts. But Africa Cup and Rugby World Cup qualifiers previously took a different approach.

Kenya get into the grind for ball possesion against Namibia on Saturday

Kenya (in red) get into the grind for ball possesion against Namibia on Saturday

Rugby Afrique’s Africa Cup is an annual event. Even though mostly teams play each other only once, common sense dictates that the team you play at home this season should be the one you visit the following year. That should apply to all teams. But Kenya appears forced by Rugby Afrique fixtures to “visit” Namibia, all the time. In fact, in 13 meetings, Namibia cam to Nairobi only twice; once, in 2011 withdrawing from the fixture scheduled for Kenya.

Except one loss in Nairobi as far back as 2003, all Kenyan defeats against Namibia were away. Kenya comfortably beat Namibia 30-26 in their only other meeting in Nairobi. On a neutral Antananarivo – Madagascar — Kenya famously beat Namibia 29-22 in the June 28, 2014 fixture for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers. Indeed, it was Kenya’s failure to grab at least a losing point in a subsequent tie against Zimbabwe that denied the Kenyans a place, for the first time, in the RWC finals, the Zim win gifting the place to Namibia.

Kenya at Kenya Commercial Bank ground, Nairobi on Saturday ....The Barthes Cup 2019 and a place in the 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy tournament in Brazil

Kenya at Kenya Commercial Bank ground, Nairobi on Saturday …. The Barthes Cup 2019 and a place in the 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy tournament in Brazil

Namibia, in fact, have never, away from home, imprinted dominance over Kenya. Is it reason why are accorded ‘permanent’ home fixtures against their arch-rivals, Kenya, for the bragging rights of being the top rugby nation in Africa after the Test playing South Africa? It is hardly mere conspiracy theory evil nature that Rugby Afrique are arm-twisted by Namibians. Fair play in drawing fixtures should demonstrate that this was not, so far, the case.

In quest of a 2019 Rugby World Cup place last time, Kenya had a battling second half in Namibia — August 28, 2018 — after falling far back in the earlier parts of the game, the eventual 58-28 defeat leaving Kenyan supporters wondering how it would have been if this tie was in Nairobi. They felt a home fixture should have been deserved, Kenya not having played an Africa Cup home game against Namibia in six years!

The Kenya U20 win over Namibia in Nairobi on Saturday, and after three straight attempts — all in Windhoek — demonstrated that home advantage can give you a lift. The Kenya side, fondly known us ‘Chipukizi’ (Young, Emerging), were pushed over the Namibian line by a passionate home crowd in a pulsating tie at the claustrophobic Kenya Commercial Bank sports club, off Thika Road in Nairobi’s northern suburbs.

The strangest thing is about how Rugby Afrique’s curious bias to award “soft” fixtures for Namibia against Kenya has never been challenged among Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) aficionados. The make-up and character of Rugby Afrique, a North Africa-driven entity, is all that says opaque. It was only in February, that Tunisian Abdelaziz Bougja abdicated the throne, after 17 years, handing over to compatriot Khaled Babbou as President of Rugby Afrique.

There are those in KRU, who for many years eyed a place on the Rugby Afrique’s table of top honchos. Confronting the body’s skewed-against-Kenya fixtures in the Africa Cup would not have been a priority. But playing ball with the continental body bore no fruit, Kenya eventually crying foul that Rugby Afrique schemed to keep at bay ‘big clout Kenyans’, preferring to back the ‘lighter weight’ Uganda for the organisation’s Vice-Presidency, that went to Andrew Owor.

Former Kenya international Paul Odera (right) celebrates with his team after the final whistle at KCB ground, Nairobi ... a 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy tournament awaits in Brazil

Former Kenya international Paul Odera (right) celebrates with his team after the final whistle at KCB ground, Nairobi … a 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy tournament awaits in Brazil

 Kenya U-20 21-18 Namibia U-20

KENYA stunned Namibia 21-18 in Nairobi on Saturday to lift a first ever Rugby Africa Barthes Cup and earn a ticket to the 2019 World Rugby U20 Trophy in Brazil in July.

Amid low fortunes and tumbling standards of the country’s traditional and sevens’ national teams, it was a thrilling relief for Kenya in general, the emergence of another world class team drawing attention even from non-rugby circles. There were congratulations all over even from the country’s Minister for Sport, Ambassador Amina Mohammed who said:

“Congratulations to ‘Chipu’, rugby under 2o for beating Namibia 21-18 to become the Barthes Cup 2019 champions. ‘Twende kazi (let’s get down to serious business)’. Also ‘kudos’ to Matoka Matoka for being the man-of-match [v Namibia] qualification to the World Cup in Brazil.”

It was sweet fruits of bitter labour for coach Paul Odera, a former Kenya and national sevens’ team player who started working virtually single-handedly with the team almost 15 years ago and who saw dreams thwarted over and over again. The only other World Cup qualification was in 2009 (in Nairobi) when Kenya were in the competition courtesy of being hosts.

Former Kenya international Paul Odera ... coach who has worked with the schools for a long time

Former Kenya international Paul Odera … coach who has worked with the schools for a long time

Before this qualifier, Odera was being mentioned as a possible next coach of Kenya’s full national rugby team. His credentials will have shot up a great deal after the triumph on Saturday; and after first taking ‘Chipu’ to Brazil.

For years, Odera has worked with schools, identifying talent and training the boys; coming up with decent teams. Finally, his lads delivered. A hero of the moment, he illuminates the country after the efforts of the senior Kenya teams that failed, at the last hurdle, to qualify for the RWC despite the stalwart efforts of South African Jerome Paarwater (2015 RWC qualifier) and New Zealander Ian Snook (2019 RWC qualifier).

South African Jerome Paarwater … after victory over Namibia in Antananarivo, came within a qualifier league point to take Kenya to the 2015 Rugby World Cup

On Saturday, Odera’s young men finally found a formula to crack Namibia’s hard nut, the team that earlier cut down Kenya in three tournaments played in Windhoek.

“I am really excited to win the Barthes Cup after reaching the final for the past three years. Namibia is a good team and has been our stumbling block but this time we prepared well. We had to get one over them especially paying at home.”

He added: “ I salute my boys for the fighting spirit and not giving up. These young boys are champions and Kenya’s future.”

 

Kenya (left) defend against Tunisia in the Barthes Cup 2019 semi-final match at KCB ground against Tunisia. Kenya won

Kenya (left) defend against Tunisia in the Barthes Cup 2019 semi-final match at KCB ground against Tunisia. Kenya won 73-0

Kenya grounded three tries and converted two penalties to overcome Namibia’s pressure which had pushed the hosts to their try line. Namibia broke the deadlock with two successfully converted penalties that saw Delron Brandt boot home the second penalty extending his side’s lead to 6-0.

Then the home side’s Brian Amaitsa’s aggression fended off two defenders, heading over the try line for their first try and narrowing the gap to 5-6 after the conversion attempt sailed wide. Exactly 24 minutes after Amaitsa’s try and off a break down, fly-half Michele Brighetti sent the ball wide to land in Beldad Ogeta’s hands. He dashed for the try box extending ‘Chipu’s’ lead to 10-6 at half time.

In the second a ‘Chipu’ infringement inside their five metres resulted in Namibia’s Shaun Van Wyk landing their first try and they took the 11-10 lead.  A repeated offense by ‘Chipu’ saw them reduced to 14 players but they kept their cool and earned themselves a penalty at the opponents’ 22 metre area. Andrew Matoka split the posts beautifully, ‘Chipu’ taking the 13-11 lead with 20 minutes left on the clock.

Kenya U20 back row Ian Masheti (left) and lock Frank Aduda came on from the bench against Tunisia

Kenya U20 back row Ian Masheti (left) and lock Frank Aduda started on the bench against Namibia

Namibia added seven points through Brandt’s try in the 67th minute and a conversion, Namibia now holding the 18-13 lead.  Then Boniface Ochieng’, Chipu’s Captain landed the try, off a rolling maul, that levelled the scores at 18-18, Dominic Coulson’s kick sailing wide.

With three minutes left on the clock, full back and man-of-the match Andrew Matoka drilled in the winning penalty kick from 40 metres, ‘Chipu’ taking the match to 21-18.

Namibia’s last-ditch effort for a try while deep in the ‘Chipu’ half was thwarted by the home lads forcing a turnover  and kicking the ball out of play as the hooter went.

Man-of-the-match Kenya's Matoka Matoka (left) fends off a tackle from Namibia's Aljerreau Zaahl

Man-of-the-match Kenya’s Matoka Matoka (left) fends off a tackle from Namibia’s Aljerreau Zaahl

KENYA U20 v Namibia:

Backs:

15 Andrew Matoka Matoka – (Strathmore University)

14 Geoffrey Oduor Okwach – (Kenya Commercial Bank)

13 George Onchiri Maranga – (Kenya Commercial Bank)

12 Dominic Hamish Coulson – (Unattached)

11 Beldad Peter Ogeta Obia – (Menengai Oilers)

10 Michele Pier Paolo Brighetti – (Sedburgh School)

9 Samuel Misiori Asati – (Kenya Commercial Bank)

22 Barry Robinson Young – (Kabras Sugar)

23 Owain Lloyd Ashley – (Merchiston Castle)

Forwards:

8 Darren Heldon Jotham Kahi – (Kenyatta University)

7 Brian Amaitsa Masinza – (Nondescripts)

6 James Robert McGreevy – (Harlequins)

5 Hibrahim Ayoo – (Menengai Oilers)

4 Emmanuel Simiyu Silungi – (Homeboyz)

3 Miles Rotuk Rahedi – (Millfield College)

2 Boniface Stephan Ochieng’ (Captain) – (Harlequins)

1 Ian Njenga Karanja – (Nondescripts)


16 Wilfred Mark Waswa Wafula – (Northern Suburbs)

17 Collins Eyan Obure – (Kenyatta University)

18 Ian Machanje Masheti – (Impala)

19 Frank Gerard Aduda – (Impala)

20 Samuel Osongo Were(Laiser Hill Academy)

21 George Alexandar Kyriazi – (Merchiston Castle)

Coach: Paul Odera

Additional reporting by Correspondents

 

 

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