Joy for Namibia, heartbreak for Zimbabwe, Kenya
Harare – Namibia went from rank outsiders to champions on a gripping Super Sunday in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to book their place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, but both Zimbabwe and Kenya showed they have closed the gap and caught up with the Welwitschias.
The Namibians arrived in Madagascar as the top-ranked team, and odds-on favourites to make it to their fifth straight World Cup, but they will be the first to concede that they were given a mighty scare by a resurgent Zimbabwe and a Kenyan team that punched above its weight.
A campaign that began with the drama of the Namibians’ loss, in their first game, against Kenya closed with the Welwitschias ranked outsiders, on the final day, to win a place in England with their fate in the hands of others as Kenya only needed to win their final game to qualify for the World Cup.
The Kenyans might be a mighty force in Sevens Rugby on the global stage but when it comes to the 15s version, they have always been a weaker team, compared to the Namibians and the Sables of Zimbabwe.
However, they have been invested a lot of resources into their 15s team and they got off to a flier, in Antananarivo, with their sensational win over Namibia and, after following that up with another win over hopeless hosts Madagascar, they were within touching distance of England.
Zimbabwe, who opened with a win over Madagascar only to falter against Namibia, in a very close game in which the Sables led 20-10 before losing 20-24, needed a win, with a bonus point from scoring four tries, for them to book their first place at the World Cup in more than two decades.
But just winning, without getting the bonus point that was needed, would open the door for Namibia, who had the advantage of playing their game against Madagascar after the Zimbabwe/Kenya tie, knowing fully well what they needed to scrape through.
Zimbabwe excelled, in their final game against Kenya, and handed the East Africans a 28-10 defeat but the Sables only scored three tries meaning that they came a try short of what would have given the team a ticket to England without having to worry about the score from the Namibia/Madagascar game.
Dubbed “Super Sunday”, it all came down to the Namibians needed to win their game by more than 52 points and, by half time, they had done the hard part and the second half was turned into a march to the Promised Land as Namibia powered their way to an impressive 89-10 win.
Everything worked for the Namibians, on the final day, with the Sables coming just one try short of getting the winning bonus that would have taken them to England and the Kenyans also being denied the losing bonus point that would have taken then to the World Cup next year.
Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya all finished on 10 points, but the Namibians claimed the title by virtue of having a superior point’s difference (+76 compared to Zimbabwe +49 and Kenya +23).
Zimbabwe will have another chance in the repechage, where they face Russia, with the winner of that game then facing the winner of the tie between Uruguay and Hong Kong for a place in England.
“It has been a remarkable day and we are so pleased to have made it to England 2015,” Namibia captain, Rohan Kitshof, told the official International Rugby Board website.
“This is for the players and coaches who believed, the fans who have given us such support, and for the people of Namibia. We go to England 2015 full of expectation and are determined to do ourselves, our nation and African Rugby proud.”
Confederation of African Rugby President Aziz Bougja praised the quality of the rugby that was on display and the ferocity of the battles.
“We have witnessed one of the most compelling, and certainly the most dramatic African Cups of recent times, which really does underscore the continued progress that our Unions are making,” he said.
“I would like to congratulate all the teams for their incredible performances.”