Can Kenya’s Rugby match 2015 performance in 2016?


Frank Wanyama at safari 7s
Frank Wanyama at safari 7s

The National Rugby Fifteens team will be targeting to face more top European teams in 2016 after an impressive season in 2015 where Kenya edged Portugal and Spain in Nairobi.

The team lost only twice this season slumping to Zimbabwe and Namibia but they showed significant improvement to advance to position 28 in the world rankings, the highest ever in Kenya’s history.

Kenya missed out on the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England after losing to Zimbabwe in the qualifiers but they still managed to secure ample playing time facing several top African sides and two European outfits.

Previously, the technical bench would rely heavily on the national rugby sevens team players to shore up the side and at times this would create friction. The technical bench adopted a different approach this season fielding players who had shone in the local 15s season and purposefully avoided selecting players from the Kenya Sevens team.

Kenya first test match was against Portugal in May at the Kenya Rugby Union Grounds in Nairobi. Kenya had previously faced the Portuguese in the sevens set up but the two sides had never met in the longer version of the game.

Portugal had eight players who were based in France and were the favorites to triumph against the hosts in Nairobi. At the half time break the score line told a different story as Kenya snatched a 17 – 10 lead.

In the second half, Kenya showed their prowess scoring 24 more points as the visitors crumbled losing 41 – 15. Head Coach Jerome Paarwaters had set up two playing units, one to feature in the test matches while another would participate in the Elgon Cup tournament.

The second string side slumped to the Uganda Cranes to relinquish the title as the main team lost to Zimbabwe in the Rugby Afrique, Africa Cup. Kenya faced Tunisia towards the end of June in their next test match and snatched a slim half time lead at the break in Nairobi.  In the second half, Mukidza inspired a flurry of points from the home side as they completely blew away the eagles by 46 – 15 in a one sided affair as the North Africans capitulated.

A month later, Kenya would face its toughest test yet when Spain faced the Simbas for the first time ever. Spain arrived in Nairobi confident of a positive result after beating Namibia 20 – 3 in the four nation’s tournament in Romania.

Ranked 19th in the world rugby standings, the Spaniards were arguably Kenya’s litmus test.  The match was Spain’s first match in Africa since 2012 and their first against Kenya who were ranked 11 places below them.

The two sides had, however, previously met in the sevens series. Kenya dominated proceedings in the first half but the Spanish threatened to rally back in the second but the Simbas stood firm to beat Spain 36 – 27 in a nerve-wracking affair.

The 2015 season has witnessed Kenya Fifteens reach new heights and definitely the pressure is on the team’s management to maintain the same momentum in 2016. Kenya’s ultimate target for the next 5 years is to qualify for the 2019 World Cup; their journey to Japan has already begun.

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Story By Bernard Ndong
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