NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 7- A squad of 18 national rugby 15s players led by skipper Wilson Kopondo commenced training this week ahead of the Japan 2019 World Cup Qualifiers which begin in June with an away trip to Morocco.
The team remains under the tutelage of backs coach Charles Ngovi and forwards coach Dominique Habimana, with the Kenya Rugby Union yet to name Jerome Paarwater’s successor after the South African left his role as head coach of the Simbas last December.
With just over three months left before the campaign begins, there is concern about the preparations of the team especially without a top boss.
This comes even as competitors Zimbabwe on Wednesday named former South Africa head coach Peter de Villiers as the national team coach ahead of the qualifiers, clearly stating their intent at battling for the single available automatic World Cup ticket.
Kenya came inches close to qualifying for the 2015 World Cup but a lapse in concentration saw them loose to Zimbabwe in their final match and lose the spot to Namibia.
However, Team manager Wangila Simiyu says they are not ready to commit the same mistakes and remains confident the team has the right hunger to vie for the automatic ticket to Japan.
“The motivation of the players is great and so far so good in training. The players are looking focused and hopefully we can keep this momentum,” Simiyu told Capital Sport.
The squad which is mostly comprised of players from reigning Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup champions KCB is expected to be beefed up with 12 more to make a compact number of 30 by the end of the month.
“We are following the Kenya Cup keenly and there are several players who have put their hands up for selection. We want to have the strongest team possible and we will ensure we pick the best,” Simiyu added.
The Simbas are expected to pitch a two day high altitude camp on the 17th and 18th of this month with a further two week period suggested close to the competition, but location is subject to availability of funds.
“We know the challenges we are facing because of finance but at the same time we want to have good preparations. We have proposed at least three test matches before Morocco and we are also looking at the Elgon Cup which will help us gauge the team,” added Simiyu.
Kenya plays away to Morocco on June 23 before facing Zimbabwe seven days later at the RFUEA Grounds. The Simbas then face neighbours Uganda on July 7 at home, then Tunisia on August 11, before facing a potential decider away to Namibia on August 18.
The winner of the six-nation tournament will automatically qualify for the World Cup while the second placed team will be subjected to a four-nation repacharge tournament that will involve a team each from the Americas, Europe and Asia
Simbas squad in training:
Oscar Simiyu, Darwin Mukidza, Peter Kilonzo, Jacob Ojee, Davis Chenge, Curtis Lilako, Martin Owila, Michael Wanjala (KCB), Stephen Otieno, Philip Ikambili (Homeboyz), Samson Onsomu, Leo Seje, Nato Simiyu, Dennis Karani (Impala Saracens), Wilson Kopondo (Kenya Harlequins), George Nyambua (Kabras Sugar), Elkeans Musonye, Alex Olaba (Strathmore Leos).