NAIROBI, June 22 – After edging out high ranked Portugal and Spain in international Test matches, national 15s head coach, Jerome Paarwater, is now targeting victory against Namibia for a chance to retain the Africa Cup.
The two sides lock horns August 8 in Windhoek where Kenya must beat the hosts who have a match in hand against Tunisia to end the season on a high.
Having demolished Portugal 45-15 before surviving a huge scare against Spain to squeeze a 36-27 victory with their 46-15 shellacking of Tunisia in the Africa Cup, Kenya have shot to 28th in the World Rugby ranking.
This trajectory from a side that has played second fiddle to their sevens counterparts, skipper, Brian Nyikuli, is bubbling with confidence the team can gun for bigger things.
But with title holders, Namibia also improving on their rankings to sit 21st, head coach, Paarwater anticipates a lively encounter when they meet the World Cup-bound side for the first time since overcoming them 29-22 at last season.
“I think Namibia are definitely going to come out after us, they will have a score to settle after we beat them last year and nearly kept them out of the World Cup.
“They have all their overseas guys back and are a quality side but as I said to our guys against Spain, if you want to compete against the best you must be the best,” Paarwater pointed out.
Nyikuli said the new rankings are a major boost ahead of the Namibia trip.
“Being top 20 is not easy, its means we have really worked hard and we can be able to take any one. We did it against giants, Portugal and Spain so going away to Namibia we know it will be a tough task but we have the composure,” the Kenya Harlequins back stated.
With seven tries in four tests, winger Darwin Mukidza has rightly been identified as one to watch, while Joshua Chisanga, is another youngster who Kenya aim to build their team around in their mission to qualify for the 2019 World Cup after missing this year’s edition by a whisker.
Simba lost their opening Africa Cup match 20-28 to Zimbabwe, a side that crushed their World Cup dream last year.
“One good thing about this team is 90 per cent of the guys are 22-23 years old. The plan is to keep the guys together for the next World Cup qualifying rounds. I’m grooming some young guys now so they are ready come 2019.
“The partnership with Western Province has been a huge success going by the experience we picked in Vodacom Cup last year,” Paarwater, who still works for Western Province as head of talent identification, added.
While the athleticism of Kenya’s players has always made them dangerous attackers in shutting out the opposition, the team’s backs have improved, after conceding only five tries in four matches.
“When I first arrived to work with Kenya the guys could play rugby but the most important thing was to put the structures in place to help them with the basics of the game – in attack, defence and the kicking game, things we take for granted at Western Province.
“Conditioning was another challenge. I had to tell the props there was a difference between being big and fat. The conditioning programme and the structures we’ve put in place have contributed to the improvements in our defence,” he outlined.