CAPE TOWN, December 12- Kenya Sevens gave their nation a Jamhuri Day lift when they joined the top seeds in the Main Cup quarterfinals of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens with two victories and a draw, the first- a stunning upset of hosts South Africa’s Blitzboks- sending the pulses racing on Day 1.
Tournament defending champions South Africa beat England 10-0 in the final match of the day to book their place in the last eight.
Benjamin Ayimba’s side started off with a 19-19 draw with the latter before holding off a furious Boks late fight-back to edge the game 12-14 in a thrilling action-packed opening day of the second leg of the tour.
Ayimba, who returned to the side he established as a force in the elite sevens circuit in the close season will clash with his successor, Mike Friday, when the heroic Shujaa go head-to-head with rapidly improving USA who finished among the top four at the 2015/16 campaign opener in Dubai last weekend.
World and Dubai champions, Fiji face France with the hosts who won the Plate in the Gulf entertaining Australia with a chance to redeem their wounded pride in the jam-packed Cape Town Stadium on Sunday as New Zealand who recovered from a shocking defeat to Canada to make the last eight paired with Argentina.
Coming in ranked 11th after collecting five points in Dubai, Kenya 7s started their tournament in similar fashion to last weekend, racing to a 14-7 lead after Biko Adema converted tries by the two Oscars, Ayodi and Ouma in the sixth and eighth minutes.
Warwick Lahmert who was called up by coach Simon Amor for Cape Town following their second finish in Dubai went over for the opening try of the game with Tom Mitchell booting it between the posts for 7-0 before Ayodi capitalised a minute after Josh Watkins was sent to the sin-bin.
After Ayimba brought on Bush Mwale and Willy Ambaka sent Kenya further ahead when he grounded the ball but Adema missed the conversion for 19-7 but Shujaa then had themselves to blame when they let victory slip with only two minutes on the clock.
Phil Burgess punished sloppy passing to touchdown but Kenya were left off the hook when Dan Dibby missed the conversion before James Rodwell scored with a try for 19-17 with the boot of Dibby this time converting for the draw.
Cheered on by a capacity home crowd, the Boks who had not convinced in a 26-5 victory over neighbours Zimbabwe the invitational side sought to book their Main Cup tickets against a side they beat five times last season in six clashes.
However, captain Collins Injera and his troops showed scant respect to the form book despite going behind to a brilliant Seabelo Senatla try on the left flank and the successful kick from Justin Geduld for 7-0 before a 205th series try and Adema’s work with the boot hauled Kenya level inside four minutes of the opening period.
Ambaka then crossed the whitewash for his second tournament try and Adema obliged with the kick for a 7-14 half time score-line to leave those watching in the Mother City of South Africa dumbfounded.
When Chris Dry who was playing his 47th cap went over right after the restart, Shujaa must have feared the Boks floodgates would open but Geduld missed the chance to level the clash from the conversion.
Ayimba brought on the exciting Nelson Oyoo who impressed with a breathtaking try in Dubai in Kenya’s 12-19 pool defeat to England on his series debut and Frank Wanyama.
Oscar Ouma was then sin-bined right at the death but the team held on to record one of the two biggest upsets of the day.
Kenya needed to beat Zimbabwe handsomely to top the group with their opponents having been walloped by England 43-0 in their first meeting since that priceless solo Dennis Ombachi try sealed Shujaa’s Rio 2016 Olympics slot 21-19 in the final of the African qualifiers last month also held in South Africa at the death.
This time; Ayimba’s boys did not give the Sables any chance to run them close in a 36-0 thumping and with it, taking Group B that had the invitational Zimbabwe propping the favourites.
Tries from Injera, Mwale, Billy Odhiambo and a single conversion from Adema saw Kenya dash to a 17-0 advantage at the break.
Oscar Ayodi crossed over for the opening five-pointer of the second period with substitutes Leonard Mugaisi and Oyoo adding a couple as Kenya ran in six tries for the first time this season.
Eden Agero came off the bench for Adema to convert the last try to round the final 36-0 score.
For Boks, Juan de Jongh began proceedings before Ryno Benjamin confirmed the win in the second half to the delight of the home crowd with the Blitzboks a defeat away from missing out on the Cup competition for the first time since the 2013 Hong Kong Sevens.
Neil Powell’s side will face Australia in a repeat of last week’s Plate final in the quarters, while last week’s runners-up England will play in the Bowl on day two, their first appearance in that competition since the 2013 Port Elizabeth Sevens, after suffering defeat to South Africa and drawing to Kenya.
Elsewhere, series leaders Fiji and Australia were the only sides to win all three of their matches at a sold-out Cape Town Stadium, with the second round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series throwing up lots of thrills and spills in front of 55,000 fans.
For Ben Ryan’s side, who scored 129 points and 21 tries, their three pool wins means they have won 33 of their last 33 pool matches with London 2014 the last time they suffered defeat, to Australia 24-12.
The Dubai champions will play France on day two in Cape Town after the Les Bleus qualified on points scored following a 26-26 draw with Canada in their final match of day one.
New Zealand suffered defeat to Canada for only the second time in history but Sir Gordon Tietjens’ side bounced back to top Pool D with a 19-10 win over Samoa to set up a quarter-final with Argentina.
The USA, who missed out on top spot in their pool by giving away a penalty with the scores tied against Australia and allowing 18-year-old and debutant Henry Hutchinson to claim the win for Scott Bowen’s side, will play Kenya.
-Additional reporting from World Rugby