NAIROBI, Kenya, July 7 – A disappointed Kenya 15s side are not going to bury their heads in the sand after falling in the final hurdle of the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Division 1A Championships as the dream of a first ever Rugby World Cup showing went belly up.
Despite the heartbreak at the hands of Zimbabwe who spoiled the Kenyan party with a 27-10 win in the final round robin match on Sunday, the team was warmly received when they touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Monday and ushered into stretch limousines.
The team was escorted with a chase car in a caravan along the busy Mombasa Road to a Nairobi hotel where the technical bench alighted first and walked into a red carpet before the players in the Limousines followed.
Many rugby enthusiasts in the country were upbeat the Simbas will qualify for their first global showpiece with motivation trending in the social media where everyone wanted to be part of it especially after Kenya won their two matches 29-22 against Namibia and walloping hosts Madagascar 34-0, but for some including the players and Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) chairman, Mwangi Muthee, found it hard to accept it slipped away.
“The tournament was very tough from the beginning, the game against Namibia was very tough but our game against Zimbabwe that was the greatest in our lives was frustrating and unfortunately we were unable to accomplish our mission.
“The players and Kenyans are disappointed but every cloud has a silver lining so we need to reflect back and see what we have achieved in terms of performance.
“We are going back to the drawing board since we are on the right track and I want to assure everybody that I will not walk out of the team until they achieve their goal,” disappointed Muthee told Capital Sport when hosting the team to a sumptuous dinner.
Head coach Jerome Paarwater who could not hide his displeasure said they will take the loss positively and build on lessons leant to prepare adequately as he confirmed they will play two test matches against Portugal and Hong Kong in October as they look forward to make it to the 2019 World Cup.
“We went in Madagascar with one purpose and that was to go to the World Cup and the boys put their effort to win the two games from there we only needed a point in the last game against Zimbabwe which we knew it won’t be easy so we prepared as we did in the rest of the games but unfortunately thing did not go our way.
“We are all disappointed because we have put more effort on this team in the last two years but we are on the right track and it’s not time to give up now, it was a good exposure and we will rectify on our mistakes and prepare for the next one,” the South African stated.
Paarwater did not regret on the 10 changes he made in the final match from the winning squad against Madagascar, saying it was part of his game plan.
“We had a plan and since we left here we knew we could make changes and that’s why I took more forwards to perform every time. The team that played against Zimbabwe is the same squad that beat Namibia in the opening match and we also had to give other players a chance to play.
“We beat Zimbabwe last year in the CAR Cup finals and it wasn’t meant to be easy and there was nothing wrong with the planning, we can’t blame anyone since everything was there for us but unfortunately we lost it,” he explained.
On losing the final match to the sables, the coach said the referee played part in their defeat.
“There was a few things that we couldn’t control in the breakdown were they slowed our game down and the referee did not penalize them in certain stages, their last try was an obstruction and we had the same referee last year and it seems he has something against Kenya where he also denied us the 50/50 calls but our opponent played very well and at the end they deserved it,” he concluded.
For captain Wilson K’Opondo, despite failing to defend their continental title and head to World Cup, the tournament exposed them to scouts and was optimistic some of the players will be going professional soon.
“We gave it our best shot but our efforts hit a snag, it’s really a dejected feeling but that’s life things happen for a reason so we just need to start preparing earlier for the next World Cup.
“One good thing that came out strongly in this tournament is that we proved to the world that we can play the longer version of the game too, and going to the final match we knew it’s going to be difficult since everybody wanted to qualify but that’s the beauty of sport you either win, draw and lose.
“We had it in our hand and at some point we were 80 minutes away from changing Kenyan rugby forever but that’s a wakeup call that we need to invest a lot of structures at the grassroots level, we should start preparing for the world Cup now,” the Lunch Bar Quins lock told Capital Sport.
Muthee added the Union has secured a partnership with their South African counterpart that will see the Simbas participate in next year’s Vodacom Cup once again as he vowed to retain the team.
“May be we did not win because we were not ready to play in the global showpiece but we need to look at the big picture and turn around that painful loss into a gain.
“We must have youth structures that will be feeding to this team but as we develop we must remember that high performance is what competes in the world stage and we must make sure we maintain a performance team,” Muthee concluded.