THE curtain comes down on the 2018 Rugby Africa Gold Cup this weekend with some high-stakes do-or-die battle in three cities in Namibia, Uganda and Tunisia with the battle for a place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan reaching a climax in Windhoek.
Others will fight for the scraps, including the quest to avoid relegation, in the other matches.
The Africa Rugby Gold Cup, a six-team battle for the right to brag about being the second best team on the continent behind the Springboks, and the golden reward of a place at the next World Cup in Japan, comes to a thrilling climax at the Geingob Stadium in Windhoek this Saturday.
Namibia, who have been the dominant force in these qualifiers, have to beat a team that has been the best of the rest of the group, Kenya, for them to get another ticket for a dance with the game’s heavyweights at next year’s World Cup.
The winner of the match will be guaranteed a place in Japan while the losing team will have to try again through the repechage in France and the showdown in Windhoek pits two teams who have not lost a match in the qualifiers in a game where one of them will have to fall.
Zimbabwe’s Sables, who were expected to do very well in these qualifiers but stumbled now and again, have to fight to avoid relegation and need to avoid defeat in Kampala against Uganda to ensure they survive the chop.
It has been a disappointing campaign by the Sables, who started the qualifiers amid great expectations, after the game’s leaders moved mountains to rope in South African coach Peter De Villiers to take charge of the team and revive a side that has lost its way in recent years.
The Zimbabweans have not qualified for the Rugby World Cup since 1991.
But under De Villiers’ watch, the Sables have not won a match in the qualifiers after being held to a surprising home draw by Morocco, losing to Kenya in the closing stages of the match in Nairobi, being beaten by Tunisia and then also losing to Namibia in Bulawayo.
They showed their potential in becoming the first team, in the qualifiers, to score four tries against Namibia in the 28-58 defeat in Bulawayo but the Sables, who have struggled to find any form of consistency from one game to the other, will need to play as well as they did in their last game to stand any chance in Uganda.
‘’The boys are focusing on next game no time to play,’’ De Villiers said on Twitter after the loss to Namibia that gave many hope, in this country, that the Sables could find a way to avoid defeat and relegation.
There is also a relegation scrap in Tunisia who host Morocco on the same day.
Tunisia coach Jaco Stouman said he expects a victory over their fellow North Africans.
“We have to work hard…and be ready for Morocco and we are not getting relegated,” Stouman told Xinhua in Nairobi after a 0-67 mauling at the hands of Kenya who rain in 10 tries.
“I can only pick the positives from the 0-67 loss to Kenya. My players showed some guts, especially in the second half, it was really good.
“Kenya is a good side. For us we need to take this experience, go work on our problems and come back next year.’’
But the real deal is in Windhoek where the winner-take-all battle looms between two teams that have shown their class in the current qualifiers.
And Kenyan head coach, Ian Snook, believes his men have the capacity to stun the Namibians in a Windhoek showdown that is likely to draw a capacity crowd.
Kenya have 17 points and Namibia have 20 points with the hosts needing just a draw to win the group, and a ticket to the next World Cup, while a victory for the visitors, given there are four points on offer, could change the standings.
"The boys will have to play their best game ever in the campaign and I am confident we can do it. We can pick up a win in Namibia," Snook told the Kenyan media this week.
"It has been difficult with no warm-up games. The Tunisian game last weekend provided a bit of everything which the players will learn from.
"I'm expecting that the players to be ready for an 80-minute effort and are really looking forward to it.’’
Both teams have won their opening four matches but the Namibians’ dominance can be seen from the 294 points they have piled, against just 41, for a points difference of +253, in a campaign in which they have scored 45 tries and conceded just five, with four of those tries coming in one match in Zimbabwe.
Kenya have piled on 178 points and conceded 82 for a points difference of +96 and have scored 26 tries while conceding 14 tries.
Dalmus Chituyi, whose two tries against Zimbabwe powered the Simbas to a crucial victory in Nairobi, returns to the national team fold alongside Felix Ayange and Curtis Lilako who missed the win over Tunisia.
“Dallo is in as we have a 6/2 bench this game. It has been crucial in a couple of other games with fresh forwards coming on late in the game and making a telling difference,’’ said the coach.
‘’We hope this will be the same. Felix is on the bench as he can cover many positions and is competent in them all. He is a tough competitor and we know he will be up for the physical battle.
‘’Curtis is back in so we can utilize his experience and cool head late in the game.
”Our hopes and aspirations is that we play really well and piece together for 80 minutes. We would love to qualify directly to Japan and that’s the goal, to beat Namibia.
‘’There is however a second chance of repechage but there is a big week ahead of us.’’
Kenya squad to Namibia
Isaac Adimo (Kenya Harlequin), Martin Owilah (KCB), Samson Onsomu (Resolution Impala Saracens), William Ambaka (Kenya Harlequin), Darwin Mukidza (KCB), Tony Onyango (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Peter Kilonzo (KCB), Oliver Mang’eni (KCB), Jacob Ojee (KCB), Mohamed Omollo (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Felix Ayange (Kabras Sugar), Dalmus Chituyi (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Curtis Lilako (KCB), Peter Karia (KCB), Elkeans Musonye (Strathmore Leos), George Nyambua (Kabras Sugar), Andrew Chogo (Kabras Sugar), Malcolm Onsando (Kenya Harlequin), Patrick Ouko (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Moses Amusala (KCB), Joseph Odero (Kabras Sugar), Colman Were (Kabras Sugar), Davis Chenge (KCB, Captain)