NAIROBI, Kenya, June 26 – Veteran 7s star Humphrey Kayange believes this is the time for the national rugby 15s team to scale the heights of the Rugby World Cup as Kenya launches the bid to qualify for the first time in Madagascar.
The country has made four fruitless attempts to play at the global showpiece set for England next year but optimism is high in the Kenyan ranks since they have assembled their best ever squad for the Confederation of Africa Rugby Division 1 champions that kick-off on Saturday.
The squad of 26 will be put to test in Madagascar, when the African champions take on Namibia, Zimbabwe and the hosts in a round robin format where the winner will be on the plane to England.
Kayange now based in United Kingdom, said their opener against Namibia on Saturday will determine their fate.
“The first game will be crucial for us if we really need to progress further, so we must win and if we don’t its really tricky since we will have to meet all the teams and we don’t know how they will play.
“We have come along way and this year we have been given that opportunity again to go out there and qualify for the World Cup, it’s a possible reality so we have a strong belief all we need to do is put in the hard work and frame our selves for England,” Kayange who is studying Bio Chemistry at Bristol University told Capital Sport before they departed for Madagascar.
Jerome Paarwater charges will be meeting teams that are well established in the longer format of the game who boast of professional players with only Kenya and Madagascar yet to feature at the World Cup.
But that does not trouble Paarwater who is confident of securing direct qualification, saying the team has had enough preparations for the past six months, more so after spending two months in the South Africa’s Vodacom Cup and playing in a Test match against Western Province.
According to the International Rugby Board qualification process, the team that finishes second in the African qualifiers will have a long journey to the World Cup since they will face Russia on the weekend of August 2 and 3 in the next phase of the qualifiers.
The victor of that match will meet the winner of the second qualifier between Uruguay and Hong Kong in a two-leg knockout on September 27 and 28 with the return leg set for a fortnight later.
To avoid the longer route, Paarwater has named a strong squad that includes five 7s players with many forwards than backs because most of the backs cannot play in more that one position.
Skipper Andrew Amonde is included in the forwards that features regulars Joshua Chisanga, Brian Nyikuli, Wilson K’Opondo and Oliver Mang’eni.
Mwamba’s Lavin Asego and siblings Kayange, Collins Injera and Michael Agevi are all part of the experienced backs as the South African will be looking to attack and defend cautiously.
Kenya has worked on her line-outs and scrums after camping in Nanyuki for a week-long high altitude training and are hoping to hold out against the nerves of Namibia who have qualified for the World Cup four times, before locking horns with Zimbabwe who have tasted the global showpiece once.
The Sables who are facing financial crisis after their title sponsor pulled out in the last minute forcing them to cancel their test match against Italy, will be seeking revenge against Kenya who beat them 29-17 in last season’s CAR Cup final.
Namibia on the other hand played two matches against Western Province where they won 30-28 before losing 25-8 to an invitational team comprising of players from first division sides Leopards and Pukke Rugby Club.
And for the hosts, they will be banking on home advantage to lift their first ever continental title and head to their first World Cup as well.
Kenya Rugby Union chairman Mwangi Muthee called upon the players to make the country proud.
“We are qualifying for the World Cup that will be hosted in the home of rugby so it will be the biggest gala ever and we want to be part of that party.
“We are not going to Madagascar to participate but as serious contenders, we are going to show Namibia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe world class rugby since we have world class players,” the KRU boss urged.