Photo credit – World Rugby
Bar South Africa, Kenya and Namibia have been the most consistent sides at the helm of African rugby. Many times, they have found themselves in situations where they have to cross paths for one to assert their dominance over the other.
The year 2018 presents a similar end to the script; the two most sides, both yet to lose, meet up for a winner takes all clash. In a year when a win is more than the victory points but also a triumph of the Gold cup and a shot at an automatic slot in next year’s Rugby world cup – no one wants to be on the losing end of this encounter.
The losing side will have to not only watch the other lift the Gold cup trophy but have to endure another set of fixtures in the Repechage tournament that will serve as a play off for another world cup slot. Participation in the repechage means fatigue, risk of more injuries in a world cup year and a shorter preparation time (that’s if they make it to the world cup anyway).
Both teams have put up some mammoth scores; Namibia with a points difference of 253 as compared to Kenya’s 96. Namibia has crossed the white line 45 times whereas Kenya has 26 tries – the above are some of the key statistics going into the game and if you look at the full table, it is so vivid that these are the teams that deserve to be contesting for this.
The men in blue and white have the advantage; they are at home, they have won this fixture in the last three years and are winners of the last four Gold cup tournaments (2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 ).
Namibia are a well balanced machine with a mix of youth and experience having secured the services of the best players from their clubs. Namibia’s emphasis on enhancing the local talent in the national academy through exposure with the Super Sport challenge and the Currie cup can clearly be seen in the dividends they are reaping with the world cup around the corner.
The open secret about Namibia is their ability to combine backs and forwards perfectly – due to the high level organization of the team, the top notch conditioning and preparation they have (having trained for 2-3 months in Europe) and the general upper echelon game awareness they possess that has produced some beautiful free flowing rugby.
The East Africans have been in the pipeline as well – building up to this moment, they have put in place a team they feel can compete at the highest level. The more old school style of Kenya has taken them places, although with a bit of cheekyness, almost every aspect of their game seems to fall in place.
The Simbas take pride in their bulky but industrious forwards that get the momentum going for their runners – Scrumhalf Samson Onsomu has been the lynchpin of this side, masterminding the tricks and creating for the bigger lads to cause havoc just before releasing their backs.
Coach Ian Snook has got everyone believing that versatility is key in the way he has switched up players’ positions and still ensuring that the team delivers. This has been quite tricky among the backs as the distribution link between Isaac Adimo and Darwin Mukidza has at times lagged and failed to feed the outside backs. Mukidza is played at inside centre despite his natural position being in the back three. The coach clearly intends to fix in as many of his stars such as new recruit Willy Ambaka without necessarily losing the efficiency of Mukidza.
This could be their undoing come Saturday if Isaac Adimo and Darwin are unable to release their outside backs quickly. The Kenyans love to play in the small spaces where they can exert physicality but an alert Namibian defence might just force them to play expansive. If Adimo and Mukidza can’t execute this well, it will be a long day for the Simbas.
The East Africans will be hugely reliant on the effectiveness of the set piece especially the lineout marshaled by the towering Oliver Mangeni, this will lay a platform for the big lads such as Chenge and Musonye leading the way in the collision.
I can’t wait for Saturday