NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 24 – A penalty try three minutes from time saved Kenya from a loss at home, pushing to a 33-33 draw with the Uganda Rugby Cranes to retain the Elgon Cup title with a 56-51 aggregate win.
The Simbas had won the first leg 23-18 in Kampala a fortnight ago and that result proved to be the masterstroke, carrying them through to a 56-51 score on aggregate, though it spelt a poor start to their Rugby Africa Gold Cup campaign.
The Ugandans, powered by the evergreen Philip Wokarach had started the return leg tie on a high, taking an early 10-0 lead that caught Jerome Paarwater’s charges by surprise.
Wokarach opened up the day booting a penalty for a 3-0 lead before Mathias Ochwo touched down for an 8-0 score for the men from the Nile. Wokarach added in the extras as the Cranes sat up on a 10-0 gap between them and their hosts.
Stunned, Kenya picked up the pieces and took the game to Uganda and it was that man Darwin Mukidza who got Kenya into the party. The team captain who scored two crucial late penalties in Kampala surfaced with another three points from distance.
Kenya got closer to the Ugandans with Jacob Ojee touching down for the hosts’ first try of the match after picking up space from the scrum with David Ambunya offloading to Ojee. Mukidza’s conversion was wide as Kenya narrowed the gap to two points.
The hosts picked up decent tempo into the match and they jumped into the lead with Moses Amusala dotting down the second try of the game and Mukidza failed to add in the extras, Kenya going 13-10 up.
Wokarach who plays his club rugby with Kenya Cup finalists Kabras Sugar popped up once again with another penalty, sending the game to a 13-13 tie.
Mukidza then made amends for his two conversion misses, successfully kicking a penalty between the sticks, his second of the game as Kenya went into the break 16-13 up.
The second half saw the visitors start stronger and they ran in a try through Brian Asaba with Wokarach converting as the lead exchanged hands once again, Uganda going 20-16 up.
Kenya made an immediate response as Ojee got his second try of the evening, landing the ball on the left despite a late attempt at tackling from the Uganda defense. Mukidza got the ball out wide to Ojee who stepped up into the try box.
The skipper added in the extras as Kenya once again went up, 23-20.
Paarwater made a change, bringing in KCB skipper Curtis Lilako for Dennis Karani, a bulk for bulk change. Simon Muniafu also went off with injury after being knocked down as he raced at the Ugandan backline and was replaced by George Nyambua.
Uganda almost caught Kenya on the counter, but they were stopped right on their tracks after the referee ruled the final pass as a forward.
The hosts and title holders kept on the command of the game with Mukidza kicking home another successful penalty, the gap now going to 26-20.
But the danger man Wokarach wasn’t just about done as he took his side back level with two successful penalties to tie the game at 26-26.
The Rugby Cranes then took a seven point lead with eight minutes to play after Michael Okorach dotted down from a quick interchange of passes, Wokarach converting successfully.
Kenya pushed and were rewarded for the hunger, earning a penalty try from a scrum after Joshua Chisanga was fouled.
With the clock ticking and Uganda also looking to snatch the win on Kenyan soil, the hosts won the ball and at the buzzer kicked out to take in the draw and retain the trophy.
The Simbas now shift their attention to back to back home ties against Senegal and Tunisia from July 8.