Ambaka scores in his New Zealand rugby debut
A try on his New Zealand rugby debut was not a bad way to blow out the cobwebs for Kenyan sevens star Willy Ambaka, now in Manawatu Turbos 15s team.
The man known as the Kenyan Lomu trotted out for Feilding Old Boys-Oroua in Manawatu club rugby on Saturday, just days after being able to complete his Manawatu move by securing his a visa to play in New Zealand.
The 27-year-old set up one try and scored another in his side’s 76-0 towelling of the hapless Freyberg.
After the match, Ambaka, whose full name is William Ambaka Ndayara, said he was tired but pleased with his effort considering he had little time to prepare with the team.
Playing the game was a major milestone for Ambaka.
Visa issues threatened his move with the Turbos considering pulling out of the deal if he could not get a visa sorted soon.
Ambaka, who pulled out of the Hong Kong and Singapore stops of the Sevens World Series as he tried to complete the move, said he remained positive throughout the process.
“I knew it would be a hard process. We do not have a New Zealand embassy in Kenya so trying to get the paperwork down to South Africa was pretty hard.”
Manawatu Rugby Union chief executive John Knowles confirmed in April they were working on getting Ambaka to New Zealand.
But Ambaka said his first contact with the province came in early February.
“[Turbos coach Jeremy Cotter] came to see me in Wellington after the Wellington Sevens. He had a chat and said he would have a think about it and finally I got the call,” Ambaka said.
The Narobi-based player was hoping to grow his game will with the Turbos.
“It is always good to experience something new. It is known out there that New Zealand are the No 1 team in rugby so it is good to come and learn here.
“It is a learning process. I am trying to make myself better.”
Ambaka said rugby was a growing sport in Kenyan with additional focus being put on 15s rugby.
“Right now it is pretty competitive. They are trying to put it up there. Last time we missed qualifying for the World Cup by one point.
“There are systems in place to get better.”
Having already made his mark in sevens, including a nomination for World Rugby’s sevens player of the year in 2013, he was now hoping to do the same with 15s.
“Sevens and 15s are very different. In sevens there is a lot of space, but in sevens you have to work hard for your space.
“But I am loving trying to find the balance,” he said.
He has also spent time with Lyon in France and Western Province in South Africa’s Currie Cup.
Ambaka said he was not closing the door to sevens rugby yet.
“You never know what the future holds. I will just take it one day at a time.”
He listed his career highlights as being part of the Kenyan sevens squad for the Rio Olympics in 2016 and being part of the Kenyan side who won their first leg of the Sevens World Series in Singapore last year.
In playing New Zealand provincial rugby, Ambaka follows in the footsteps of Kenyan loose forward Daniel Adongo.
Adongo played 11 games for Counties Manukau in 2012 after playing for the Sharks and Bulls in Currie Cup.
Adongo went on to play Super Rugby for the Kings before trying his hand at American football with the Indianapolis Colts between 2013 and 2015.
Report by Shaun Eade- Manawatu Standard
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