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Core values at the heart of Kenya’s bid for Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification

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Kenya head coach Paul Odera has created a core set of values that he hopes can help the team qualify for a first Rugby World Cup.

Last month, Odera took the first step on the long road that could lead the Simbas to France when he named a bumper 102-man training squad to continue preparations for their opening RWC 2023 qualifiers in July.

COVID restrictions mean that the players will initially meet virtually, but once the squad has been trimmed to a group of 50 and then 30, there are plans to hold a training camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa in June.

At the heart of Odera’s work is a mission statement, which has been shared with the players, to “transform our country and rugby through leadership and our identity; inspiring pride and love for the people of Kenya”.

The former Kenya U20 coach has also provided the squad with a set of core values — protection, respect, honesty, perseverance, leadership and warrior-ship — he believes can assist the Simbas in their quest to reach France 2023.

“Making the World Cup in France is something much bigger than just rugby for us,” Odera told World Rugby.

“Because to us it’s to bring the country together, to bring all the different races together, to bring all the different tribes, ethnic groups together, to bring those disparate social groups together and for the country to start believing in the men.”

He added: “What’s driving me is my passion and that passion is what I’m trying to get into the players, into my coaching staff, into the Kenya Rugby Union as an organisation, is that we are transforming this country through the game of rugby and we’re going to get success on the field and we’re going to get success off the field.”

Avoiding banana skins

The Simbas are scheduled to host Senegal and Zambia in Nairobi in July in Pool B of the second round of African qualification for RWC 2023.

Kenya have won both of their previous test meetings with Senegal, while their only defeat to Zambia came 41 years ago.

However, the Simbas have not played a competitive test since their Victoria Cup win over Zimbabwe in September, 2019, while the country’s domestic competition was suspended in March due to the pandemic.

And, although two of the three teams will progress to the next round, Odera is still worried that a lack of match practice and conditioning could hurt his side.

“They really are banana skins, both teams,” Odera said. “Because a majority of Zambia’s team are in the military, so if they’re in the barracks, they’ve probably been training. 

“Senegal at times pick heavily from their Francophone players, so players who play in France, second, third division, I don’t know if some are in the first division, but they are an unknown quantity and Europe is opening up now. 

“And, we are not training, so, yes, usually these would be teams we’d beat comfortably, but I am very concerned that we are going to be undercooked. 

“If we are too undercooked, then it evens out the playing field this time.”

Percentage game

Kenya came closer than they ever have done to realising their Rugby World Cup dream three years ago when the team qualified for the repechage tournament in Marseille as Africa 2.

However, it turned into a sobering experience as the Simbas lost each of their three matches in the south of France to Canada, Hong Kong and Germany.

Odera and Kenya know how hard it is to navigate the repechage, and the coach is therefore keen to secure the team’s return to France as Africa 1 — an ambition he thinks is achievable.

Taking heart from the win his Kenya U20 team recorded over Namibia to qualify for the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019, Odera believes the Simbas can do similar if they improve their success rate in key areas of the game, including the lineout, kicking and tackling.

“When we beat Namibia in the under-20s, we got from 38 per cent [accuracy] to 43/44 per cent,” Odera said. 

“That is how talented our athletes are in Kenya, that even with a 44/45 per cent performance accuracy, we’re still able to beat a team like Namibia, who are at between 70-75 per cent. 

“So, our chances are very good for us to qualify, if we can get these numbers from 38 per cent to 50 per cent.”

What would it mean to Odera to lead the Simbas to France 2023?  “For me it would be an achievement beyond words,” he said.

“The biggest achievement would be that the world has a positive view on Kenya and it’s our rugby that’s projecting that positive view.”

READ MORE: Portugal take inspiration from France’s youth policy on road to Rugby World Cup 2023 >>

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Welwitschias seal Africa Cup berth

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Namibia’s Welwitschias are among sides that have confirmed their place in the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, the next stage of the region’s Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification process.

Namibia and Cote d’Ivoire made it through as the top two teams from Pool A of this year’s qualification tournament, while Senegal and Kenya qualified from Pool B.

Pool A was keenly contested, with one win apiece for the three competing teams, and was ultimately decided on points difference.

Madagascar missed out despite bouncing back from their midweek 52-10 defeat to Namibia with a 24-19 victory against hosts Cote d’Ivoire, who remain on course to appear in their first Rugby World Cup of the professional era on the strength of their shock win against Namibia last week. It will only be of minor consolation to the Makis that the result lifted them five places in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings to 47th.

The Welwitschias go through to the eight-team 2022 Rugby Africa Cup, which will also be the final qualifying tournament for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Next year’s Africa Cup will be contested on a knockout basis, and Namibia will face the runners-up of Pool D of the ongoing Rugby Africa Cup.

With Tunisia already having withdrawn, that leaves Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso as one of Namibia’s possible opponents come 2022. The Zimbabwe and Burkina play each other in Harare over the next two weeks.

Zimbabwe, ranked 34th in the world, start as favourites against 90th-ranked Burkina Faso and are tipped to win Pool D, which would mean Namibia would face the Burkinabe in 2022 whole Zimbabwe would take on Cote d’Ivoire in the race to book places at the 2023 World Cup.

In Pool B of the current qualification tournament, Senegal were the only team to win both their fixtures, following up an earlier 20-19 win over Kenya with a 20-5 victory against Zambia. Kenya bounced back to beat Zambia 45-8 on Sunday to finish runners-up behind the Lions.

The Rugby Africa Cup 2022 will involve eight teams – with the top two teams from Pool C and Pool D making up the line-up – and is due to be played on a straight knockout basis.

Uganda got off to a good start in Pool C with a 53-12 win over Ghana on Saturday. Number eight Desire Ayera and winger Solomon Okia both grabbed a brace of tries in a nine-try victory against a team ranked 46 places lower than them.

Uganda, who are the host nation of Pool C, will look to make it two wins from two against Algeria on July 18.

Before tha, Ghana had a must-win encounter against Algeria on July 14. – Rugby World Cup/Agencies

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Rugby-Springbok boss Erasmus stokes up pre-test tension with social media post

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South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has cranked up the tension with the touring British & Irish Lions by going onto social media to question the tackling technique of Owen Farrell.

Rugby World Cup - Final - England v South Africa

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union – Rugby World Cup – Final – England v South Africa – International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan – November 2, 2019 South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Matthew Childs

CAPE TOWN: South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has cranked up the tension with the touring British & Irish Lions by going onto social media to question the tackling technique of Owen Farrell.

Erasmus posted video clips of two tackles Farrell made in the Lions’ tour match on Wednesday, when they lost to South Africa A in Cape Town, days after Lions coach Warren Gatland questioned why home scrumhalf Faf de Klerk had not been sent off for a reckless head challenge.

Animosity between the coaches has risen after Erasmus failed to persuade the Lions to drop their tour game on Saturday against the provincial franchise Stormers for a repeat clash with the shadow Springbok side to give South Africa better opportunities to prepare for the three-test series that starts next week.

Erasmus, the de-facto coach of the world champion Springboks, had initially suggested the Lions were running scared but then backed off those comments, while Gatland rejected another match against South Africa A saying it was not his team’s role to prepare the hosts for the tests.

South Africa’s preparations were disrupted by an outbreak of COVID-19 infections, causing the cancellation of a warm-up test against Georgia and five days of isolation for their 45-man squad in their hotel rooms last week.

On Wednesday, De Klerk was fortunate not to be red-carded – and potentially banned from the tests – for a running tackle, leading with his head and without using his arms, on Lions loose forward Josh Navidi. De Klerk looked to almost knock himself out with the force of the clash.

“It looked reckless to me. No arms, and he’s hit the arm first and then shoulder but there’s definitely head-on-head contact,” said Gatland, who added that he would seek further clarification from the referees.

VIDEO CLIPS

In response, Erasmus has posted video clips highlighting two Farrell tackles: one leading with his shoulder on back-row forward Jasper Wiese, and the other grabbing De Klerk high and spinning his opponent around.

“If there is time maybe also get absolute clarity and alignment on this one please, I know it’s way after the whistle, but let’s just align and get clarity to be sure,” he wrote in the post.

Erasmus had earlier this week spilt news that Lions forward Alun Wyn Jones was to rejoin the squad, catching Gatland off guard when he was asked about it by reporters. The Lions coach looked irritated by the revelation.

Gatland also mocked Erasmus’ water boy act at Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday night.

Erasmus was frequently on the pitch during stoppages in play, instructing his charges while wearing a bib reserved for those who carry sustenance onto the field for the players.

“I think if you are the water boy carrier running onto the pitch you have got to make sure you are carrying water,” Gatland jibed.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Live updates: Rugby World Cup Qualifying – Manu Samoa v Tonga at Hamilton

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Samoa have promoted Hurricanes halfback Jonathan Taumateine to the No.9 jersey, with Ed Fidow coming onto the wing and Tomasi Alosio moving to fullback. Losi Filipo will likely debut off the bench.

Tonga bring Siua Maile into hooker and Harrison Mataele into the second row, while James Faiva starts at first-five, after being a late withdrawal from the opening encounter. Kalione Hala will move to fullback.

Manu Samoa: 1-Tietie Tuimauga, 2-Ray Niuia, 3-Michael Alaalatoa (c) , 4-Benjamin Nee-Nee, 5-Samuel Slade, 6-Olajuwon Noa, 7-Alamanda Motuga, 8-Henry Time-Stowers, 9-Jonathan Taumateine, 10-Rodney Iona, 11-Neria Fomai, 12-Henry Taefu, 13-Stacey Ili, 14-Ed Fidow, 15- Tomasi Alosio.

Reserves: 16-Seilala Lam, 17-Jonah Aoina, 18-Kalolo Tuiloma, 19-Theo McFarland, 20-Jack Lam, 21-Dwayne Polataivao, 22-D’angelo Leuila, 23-Losi Filipo

Tonga: 1-Jethro Felemi, 2-Siua Maile, 3-Sila Puafisi, 4-Don Lolo, 5-Harrison Mataele, 6-Sione Tu’ipolotu, 7-Mateaki Kafatolu, 8-Nasi Manu, 9-Sonatane Takulua (c), 10-James Faiva, 11- Hosea Saumaki 12-Nikolai Foliaki, 13-Fine Inisi, 14-Penikolo Latu, 15-Kalione Hala

Reserves: 16-Jay Fonokalafi, 17-Duke Nginingini, 18-Ben Tameifuna, 19-Maama Vaipulu, 20- Viliami Taulani, 21-Aisea Halo, 22-Nafi Tu’itavake, 23-Walter Fifita.

TAB Odds: Samoa $1.09, Tonga $6.50

Moana Pasifika team locked in for revamped Super Rugby competition

Moana Pasifika’s place in next year’s Super Rugby competition has been confirmed.

In April, NZ Rugby granted the franchise a conditional license to join a revamped competition, alongside fellow newcomers Fijian Drua.

On Monday, the NZR board made the decision to upgrade the licence’s status to unconditional, satisfied the new club had met the criteria to become a fully fledged franchise, and opening the door for them to begin recruiting players, coaches and sponsors.

NZR is still “working closely” with Fiji Drua, whose progress has been hindered by the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the Pacific Island nation.

“We always anticipated it would take some time to formalise the arrangements and conditions we needed to progress, but we are now in a position to move forward again,” says interim Moana Pasifika chief executive Pelenato Sakalia.

“Today’s announcement will no doubt generate another wave of excitement and enthusiasm about Moana Pasifika.”

Rugby Australia and NZR continue to work together toward finalising the structure for next year’s tournament, based on the inclusion of Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua in a 12-team competition.

“A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes, and it will be exciting for everyone to watch developments in the coming weeks and months,” says NZR chief executive Mark Robinson.

Despite the pandemic roadblock, Fijian Drua are still “progressing well” in their path to unconditional and Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor is confident they’ll be ready to go next year.

“We are encouraged by the progress we are making toward gaining an unconditional licence to compete in next year’s competition,” says O’Connor.

“COVID-19 has presented some obvious challenges, but we are confident we will be in a position to join Moana Pasifika in entering the final phase of planning for 2022 and beyond.”

Former Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger is expected to become the team’s first head coach, with Filo Tiatia as his assistant.

Mauger was part of their coaching team for the game against Māori All Blacks last year, when they were edged 28-21 in Hamilton.

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