NAIROBI, Kenya, February 18- The national 15s team are confident they will nail a first ever appearance at the Rugby World Cup in England and Wales next year as they prepare to depart for the 2014 Vodacom Cup in South Africa on March 2.
On Tuesday, the side got a huge shot in the arm when Kenya Breweries Limited, through their Tusker brand, rolled out a three-year sponsorship deal worth USD 869,061.41 (Sh75m), the largest package ever for a team that has lived in the shadow of their globe-totting 7s counterparts.
This financial injection will facilitate the side led by South African Jerome Paarwater, to fulfil their Vodacom Cup eight-week tour to his homeland besides the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) qualifiers in June and July where they will face Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
“It’s a challenge we are really cherishing and excited about. We know we are going to take baby steps, it’s a journey and we are going to relish the experience because we want to be in a better place in Madagascar,” team captain, Wilson Kopondo, enthused.
“The coach is excited and sacrificed for the team. We want to do great and he has changed the perspective of the how we view the game, how we want to do things and we are right on track.
“There is a lot of hard work we have put in. At the end of the day, we are going to put our best foot forward, the Vodacom Cup is not the end but the means of where we want to go in Madagascar,” the skipper added.
“The biggest problem we had in the past is that the guys were not playing enough rugby as a team. For eight weeks, they will play hard and competitive rugby and you need to do something special to go to Madagascar and do well.
“Namibia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar are struggling to get games and we are fortunate to go and compete at the Vodacom Cup. There are a lot of benefits to Kenyan rugby after that,” Paarwater asserted.
“There are no limits, it’s just the effort and work you put in and the guys will look better when they come back from South Africa because the main purpose is conditioning and fitness,” he added.
Kenya, who will be based in a former military camp in Cape Town, will play five of their seven Vodacom Cup matches in their adopted hometown in the Southern Section of the tournament with their opening fixture on March 7 against the Eastern Province Kings.
Other teams the national side that will be known as Tusker Lions XV are pooled alongside, Boland Cavaliers, Border Bulldogs, Free State XV, Sharks XV, SWD Eagles and Western Province.
“This is a milestone since the real rugby is 15s rugby. We are headed for the last hurdle in qualifying for the England and Wales next year. The Vodacom Cup is a godsend for Kenya because preparations are everything.
“Going to the World Cup is not a walk in the park; it will be tough down there since the best players in the world will be up against them. We have set the bar high and we must face the challenge head on,” Kenya Rugby Union boss, Mwangi Muthee, observed.
“Kenya’s participation in the Vodacom Cup is the talk in South Africa. They will not go there for holiday, they are going there to condition, bond as a team and perfect their skills.
“It’s only them who can strengthen the bond that has developed between South Africa rugby and Kenya. We are ambitious, we don’t want to end with Vodacom, once we outgrow it, we want to o to Currie Cup, when we get there, we want to be a Test nation,” Muthee added.
Kenya is the only side from outside the host nation featuring in the tournament following efforts between KRU, South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) and Western Province.
“The boys are going to be thrown in the deep end but you can’t go to the World Cup and face New Zealand and you have not done well in this competition. There is the challenge to see how we prepare in the Vodacom and how they take the challenge.
“It will not be a joke, rugby is one of the biggest sports in SA and they will be surprised, this team will go to Cape Town where they will have support. Our objective is to go to the World Cup,” Paarwater, who will name his final team a week before departure with a few members of the sevens side included explained.
“Last year it was a good experience playing against Namibia and Zimbabwe and we know what we expect. I’m glad the whole squad is travelling; we need to go to Madagascar and do Kenya proud,” the head coach added.
“Kenyan Rugby has grown in leaps and bounds largely due to the memorable performances of our national sevens team in the IRB Sevens Series. However- as any rugby purist will tell you-the 15 man game is what real rugby is all about hence our reason for being here today,” Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL) Managing Director Joe Muganda said.
He added: “At the end of the day, we want a successful team, we expect them to go there and do well and as professionals, we expect them to go there and do the business which is qualifying for the World Cup.”
The MD, a former player in the national 7s side, announced the beer manufacturing firm would consider boosting their package should the team qualify for the RWC.
According to Muthee, participation in the Vodacom Cup will cost USD 347,624.57 (Sh30m) with the players involved set for what he called ‘attractive packages’ contracts with more sponsors set to be unveiled in due course.