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Simbas out to put smile back on Kenyan rugby

The Kenya Simbas in a past match. Photo/KRU

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 22- On a week that Kenyan rugby has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, the national 15s side have a chance to put a smile back on the faces of rugby enthusiasts when they start their Rugby Africa Gold Cup campaign away to Morocco on Saturday in Casablanca.

The Simbas, who just before departure to North Africa banked a new shirt sponsor will look to start their Gold Cup campaign with a win which might be their first in North African soil as they take a second stab at qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

Head coach Ian Snook is beaming with confidence the team has done enough in training, though he reckons they would have been better placed had they had more build up matches.

“There have been a few little hiccups but it is what it is. We would have possibly had to have more time in training and played more warm-up games but that hasn’t happened. But we have done everything we can and we are ready,” the tactician noted.

His only opportunity to see the team playing in a competitive phase was in last month’s Elgon Cup tie away in Uganda where the lads ran off 34-16 winners and the tactician hopes they can approach the Moroccans with the same vigor.

Kenya Simbas head coach Ian Snook and Tusker’s Marketing ManagerChristine Mwaura. Photo/RAYMOND MAKHAYA

Kenya missed out on a World Cup qualification slot in 2015 by a mere point and the team says it has learnt from its mistakes and will seek to take all the five Gold Cup matches with absolute seriousness and make amends.

Back Leo Sejje who was part of the training squad in 2015 but never made the cut says the team is hungry to claim success and has promised they will pound their flesh hard enough to earn that ticket to Japan.

“I believe we have learned from our past mistakes; the chances we had and didn’t take. We have been preparing keeping in mind what made us miss last time. We are keeping every detail in mind as we move into these qualifiers; we won’t leave any detail behind,” Sejje says.

Morocco started off their campaign with a 23-23 draw away to Zimbabwe, a side considered one of the top contenders for the title. This result, Snook says should be enough to sound the alarms and ensure the side goes in with caution.

“They played well away from home, they are still living on the confidence picked from that game, and also having just come up winning the Second Division. They got big players who go direct and physical. We will need to play well to be capable of winning the game,” the tactician noted.

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New Kenya 15s head coach Ian Snook with his assistant Murray Roulston when they met the squad for the first time on April 12, 2018. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

Kenya is yet to win in North African soil and on both occasions they have crossed over, they were on the wrong end of results. This is a stat that Snook and his charges are keen to correct.

“Looking at the period of time since the last game against Uganda, we have had a good duration to prepare for this game and I believe looking at what we have been putting in during training, we are very ready to take on Morocco,” Sejje noted.

After Morocco, the team will fly back home to take on Zimbabwe’s Sables at the KRFUEA next weekend. They will then play two consecutive home games against Uganda early in July and Tunisia on 11 August.

The Simbas will conclude their campaign with a visit to Namibia for what could turn out to be a decisive showdown on 18 August.

Snook is optimistic qualifying to the World Cup is ‘Mission Possible’.

“Every team is tough and Namibia got a well organized side and fairly experienced. They are good in the forwards who are well drilled. Nothing is impossible with the way we are trying to play the game. By the time we come to Namibia we hope we will have everything in place,” the coach noted.

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