Kenya Simbas Head coach Paul Odera insists his side do not fear Namibia as the teams prepare to compete for a ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023 on Sunday.
The Simbas came through a nervous final 10 minutes, and a serious examination of their set-piece, to beat Algeria 36-33 in their Rugby Africa Cup 2022 semi-final on Wednesday and book their place in the showpiece match in Aix-en-Provence.
Namibia stand between Kenya and a first ever Rugby World Cup appearance, having beaten Zimbabwe 34-19 in their last-four encounter at Stade Maurice David.
Whoever wins Sunday’s Rugby Africa Cup final will secure their spot in Pool A at RWC 2023, alongside hosts France, New Zealand, Italy and Uruguay. The loser, meanwhile, will compete in the Final Qualification Tournament in November.
Kenya have not beaten Namibia since 2014 and suffered their fifth successive defeat to the Welwitschias in South Africa last November, losing 60-24.
However, the Simbas led that match in Stellenbosch 24-19 at half-time, and Odera believes they will provide sterner opposition this weekend having warmed up for the Rugby Africa Cup by competing in the Currie Cup.
“A number of factors give me confidence. One is how well we did in the first half last year,” Odera told World Rugby.
“But you’ve got to remember that since November, we have a much more battle-hardened side, because we’ve been to the Currie Cup. We’ve trained as a team for three months together.
“OK, we had to do quite a bit of juggling between players in school and work commitments, etc. but the tight-five were in South Africa uninterrupted for two months, getting fit and strong. And that is really the biggest difference between November and now.
“We are a lot fitter and a lot better conditioned to deal with an outfit like Namibia. So, I think we’re in with a good chance.
“We don’t fear Namibia, we respect them massively. I mean, they are a team to be respected on the African continent [but] fear, no.
“And then you’ve got players who have been there when they’ve put Namibia under pressure and seen how vulnerable Namibia can be when certain areas in their game are exploited.
“So, if you put all those factors together, it does give me some confidence that I think we may be able to get a positive result at the end of 80 minutes on Sunday.”
Dreaming of playing the All Blacks
Having endured a difficult evening up front in the semi-final against Algeria, Odera knows Kenya must improve in that area if they are going to beat Namibia and their powerful pack.
“Namibia put a lot of pressure on Zimbabwe there,” he added, “but they’ve done that for years and that’s been a big strength of Namibian rugby.
“So, we’re under no illusions of the task waiting for us in the set piece.”
There is good news for Kenya in the backs, though, with Odera hopeful that sevens stars Collins Injera and Vincent Onyala – who scored two tries against Namibia last November – will be fit for the final.
And, it seems that the squad have allowed their thoughts to drift to qualification and returning to the south of France to play the hosts and New Zealand next year.
“Every rugby player dreams of playing the All Blacks, and you can imagine playing France in France in front of their home fans, 50-60,000 fans,” Odera said.
“Making the World Cup in this particular pool would be fantastic, and a number of the players have been talking about that. They’ve been saying, ‘could you imagine facing the haka and facing France, playing Italy?’.
“At times, dreams like this look to be too far but if you think that we’re 80 minutes away from realising a dream like that then it doesn’t look that far.”
For Odera, qualification would not only be a considerable feather in his cap but, he hopes, it would be an inspiring example of what Kenyan coaches can achieve.
“I think it would be really good for local coaches,” Odera said. “Because I think in the past there’s perhaps been a feeling that, for a team to get to the World Cup, perhaps we always do need to bring in an expatriate head coach to head the programme and that’s what makes the difference.
“So, I think for younger coaches who are coming through in Kenya, for me that would be huge because then at least I would have given them hope for the future that indeed there are local Kenyan coaches who can do it.”
Story Courtesy/World Rugby