The pecking order at the completion of the newly introduced Rugby Africa Gold Cup is a pointer to next year’s World Cup qualifier.
Namibia led the pack finishing unbeaten with Kenya and Uganda finishing third and second.
At the weekend, Uganda and Tunisia won their matches to decide the final placing after the two top places were decided a week earlier.
For Kenya, the focus is now on the two test matches against Hong Kong on August 19 and 26th and a possible quadrangular in Hong Kong in November if Kenya is invited.
Hong Kong and World Rugby are nearing a decision on the November quadrangular.
At the moment, there are discussions to include a European and South American teams. These will be joined by Hong Kong and a third team which could be Kenya.
Overall, what emerged from the Gold Cup for Kenya the growth of the team and a wider squad as well as developing young talent.
“We are putting some daylight with the chasing pack while narrowing the gap against Namibia,” Dominique Habimana, a forwards coach acknowledged.
He explained: “From the Gold Cup, you can see the boys are growing which is good. They are enjoying their rugby now. What they have realized is that their competitors are also growing and the gap is narrowing. As a result, they need to grow faster than them.”
The same sentiments were on the lips of Jerome Paarwater, the head coach who has been at the heart of developing the team.
“Next year will be competitive because teams will step up. Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tunisia and Senegal are no pushovers,” he warned.
His prediction is that in the qualifier, all the teams are likely to prepare much better and possibly bring in some players who are plying their trade outside their countries.
Tunisia and Zimbabwe are case examples since some of their players were not available for the Gold Cup.
The Kenya team management is aware that despite finishing second, there’s so much work to be done as well as structural issues which border on getting rid of some habits before becoming very competitive. Habimana highlighted some of the concerns.
“Some of these are obvious mistakes and lack of concentration as well as intensity. It will be a different ball game next year because of the World Cup qualifier because there’s so much at stake and every team will be much stronger after putting a lot of effort in resources for their preparations,” he explained.
Some of the lapses came to the fore in the match against Namibia which Habimana dissected.
“The boys did try. We were let down by mistakes under pressure, both in attack and defense. That’s where the proverbial cookie crumbled.”
Against Namibia, Kenya appeared predictable, “because of the inability to impose our game when we had the ball in hand. That was not the approach we wanted to take. It was not the way we were supposed to have played.”
“We need to get over the hurdle of playing fast and high as well as heavy all the time. It should be our second nature. Right now, we can comfortably do any two at the same time. The next step is to do all the three. This will come with exposure through playing many games.”
Against Namibia, there was a plan. “When you look at their set up when they had the ball in hand, they were always vulnerable on the outside channels where the wingers were always isolated. But, we couldn’t recycle fast enough around the mid field which is why we need to recycle at speed.
“The tries came off our mistakes. They scored four tries from the knock on. Most of their points came from our mistakes that handed them free and easy possession.”
A week earlier, Kenya beat Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. “Compared to Zimbabwe where we had the intensity and heavy contact which was slow and boring. We were able to do that against Zimbabwe.”
All Kenya needed against Namibia was to step up with speed and precision. They were unable. “There is more work to do in this area I guess, but we are getting there,” Habimana admitted.
With a stable squad and more quality matches, Kenya should be in a position to favourably compete for the one World Cup slot.
2017 Rugby Africa Gold Cup Results
June 24: Kenya 33 Uganda 33, Senegal 16 Zimbabwe 28.
July 1: Senegal 16 Uganda 17, Tunisia 7 Namibia 53.
July 8: Kenya 100 Tunisia 10, Namibia 95 Senegal 0.
July 15: Kenya 45 Senegal 20, Uganda 78 Tunisia 17, Namibia 31 Zimbabwe 26.
July 22: Uganda 24 Namibia 48, Zimbabwe 22 Kenya 41.
July 29: Zimbabwe 23 Tunisia 31, Namibia 45 Kenya 7.
August 5: Uganda 38 Zimbabwe 12, Tunisia 26 Senegal 18.
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