by Juma Pondamali
Kenya Simbas floored Zimbabwe Sables in a hotly contested 45-36 Rugby Africa Gold Cup, a qualifier for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Zimbabwe scored five tries and one penalty try as well as two conversions against Kenya’s five tries, a penalty try and four conversions.
Captain Davies Chenge gave Kenya a perfect start with a try that was converted by Darwin Mukidza before Zimbabwe replied through lock Fortunate Chipendo after good hands but their conversion was wide.
Chenge was at it again after a break from back-rowers George Nyambua and Elkeans Musonye who set up Tony Onyango to clear Chenge for his second before completing his hattrick five minutes later.
Zimbabwe however remained focused as captain Denford Mutamangira, who was playing his 50th match, scored a second try for his side to bring the scores to 26-12.
Kenya would be awarded a penalty to extend the lead to 33-12 but the Sables ensured they go to the break without a big deficit as hooker David Makanda went over to trail 17-33.
Zimbabwe returned in the second half hoping to complete the job scoring two tries through Farai Mudariki and winger Mathew Mcivab as well as a penalty try to take a 33-36 lead.
But Kenya were not done yet as they went ahead to make a triple change with hooker Peter Karia, prop Moses Amusala and lock Oliver Mangeni coming on for Coleman Were, Patrick Ouko and Malcolm Onsano respectively which paid off as they managed to make a comeback and score the winning two tries through substitute flanker Dalmus Chituyi with Mukidza converting one.
Kenya Simbas head coach Ian Snook was a relieved man at full-time after seeing his side come from behind to win the game.
“The boys who came off the bench did a good job to help make the comeback. This win really motivates us and the World Cup dream is very much on. We go again next week against Uganda to try bag a win and stay in the competition.”
Zimbabwe head coach Peter De Villers rued the missed chances in the second half saying:
“It’s a game of rugby and Kenya took advantage of us in the closing stages to score the winning tries. In the first half I feel like we were asleep and woke up in the second half. We had a good start in the second half scoring couple of tries but we just couldn’t hold onto that. The dream to qualify is not dead.”
Zimbabwe’s next game will be against Tunisia in Tunis on Saturday July 7, 2018 before hosting Namibia on August 4 in Harare.
Kenya also returns to action on July 7 in Nairobi when they will host Uganda Cranes in a clash that will also double up as Elgon Cup second leg.
Abdelaziz Bougja, chairman of World Rugby’s African association, Rugby Africa said: “What a thrilling encounter it was! I am happy to see such close games, both teams must be commended for their performance today. We saw skills, speed and combativeness on the field and two teams with amazing athletes.”