Kenya’s national rugby team, the Simbas, fancy their chances of securing a first-ever World Cup appearance when the qualifiers begin next.
Kenya finished runners-up to powerhouse Namibia in the last two editions of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup, which this year has the added significance of determining the continent’s other representative at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Simbas have effectively displaced Zimbabwe as Africa’s second-most powerful rugby playing nation outside of South Africa.
Now, with new coach Ian Snook in place and some fresh talent, the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) is hoping their team can go all the way and secure this year’s World Cup ticket ahead of favourites Namibia.
“The Simbas squad assembled is full of quality and depth, with a lot of exciting talent across the board. It is definitely one that can challenge for World Cup qualification,” Michael Kwambo, KRU media and communications manager, told KweséESPN this week.
Kwambo admitted, though, that the competition will be intense this year.
“This year’s Rugby Africa Gold Cup is as open as they come; all the teams are putting in top-notch preparations. The long and short of it, every team is a threat.”
The Simbas kicked off their preparations with a camp in February, although they had no coach at the time following the departure of South African Jerome Paarwater last December
New Zealander Snook had his first competitive match against the Uganda Cranes in the first leg of the annual Elgon Cup, with the Simbas easily securing a 24-9 away win to assert their dominance over the regional rivals.
Kwambo said Kenya was impressive with some “authoritative” forward play, adding that the “backs had a great time as well”.
There are also high hopes for some of the young players Snook has roped in. “There are a couple of lads that coach Snook called up to the squad such as former U20 internationals Malcom Onsando, Eddie Anya and Xavier Bett, all with the ability to fulfil their potential in the Simbas colours, while Leo Seje, who had trials with the Melbourne Rebels a few years back, will certainly be key to the team’s ambitions going forward,” Kwambo said.
Kenya visit Morocco for their first World Cup qualifier on 23 June before hosting Zimbabwe a week later. They will then play two consecutive home games against the Uganda Cranes early in July and Tunisia on 11 August.
The Simbas will conclude their campaign with a visit to Namibia for what could turn out to be a decisive showdown on 18 August.