Kenya have taken a big step towards qualifying for their first-ever Rugby World Cup with an impressive 29-22 victory over Namibia in the opening round of matches in the African Nations Cup in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Saturday.
Pre-tournament favourites Namibia – the highest ranked team in the tournament and World Cup ever-presents since 1999 – raced into a 12-0 lead thanks to two tries from left wing Heinrich Smit and a conversion from Willem Kotze.
But Kenya took advantage of prop Jaco Engels’ yellow card on 38 minutes to score a converted try on the stroke of half-time through one of their Rugby Sevens contingent, Humphrey Khayange.
Kenya scored a further 12 points while Namibia were a man down, flanker Michael Okombe being joined on the scoresheet by scrum half Edward Achayo. With Lavin Asego landing his second conversion Kenya found themselves 19-12 up with the second half six minutes old.
However Namibia hit back to level the scores when full back Chrysander Botha scored a try that Kotze converted.
Kotze and his opposite number Asego then traded penalties before Sevens skipper Andrew Amonde came off the bench to score the match winner with 16 minutes to go.
Zim begin with big win
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s England 2015 ambitions remain on track after defeating hosts Madagascar 57-22 in front of a capacity crowd in the Rugby-mad capital.
There was only one score in it at the break but Zimbabwe, who have not featured at Rugby’s showcase event since 1991, produced a blistering second-half performance to steal an early lead in the event standings.
Experienced back-rower Jacques Leitao was the star of the show with four of the Sables’ nine tries, the other scores coming from Stephen Hunduza (2), Lambert Groenewald, Riaan O’Neill and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo.
Namibia and Madagascar will need to beat Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively on Wednesday to realistically keep their World Cup qualification hopes alive. The winner of the three-round tournament will join New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia in Pool C, while the runner-up will face Russia for a place in the Repechage Final later this year.
The Webb Ellis Cup will visit Madagascar for the first time ahead of the decisive round of matches on 6 July as part of the official Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, presented by DHL and Land Rover and its arrival is eagerly anticipated.
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