Kenya Lionesses fightback against Kazakhstan not enough

Kenya Lionesses in a past Olympic event. Photo Courtesy/World Rugby

Kazakhstan withstood an intense late period of pressure from Kenya Lionesses to secure their first win in WXV 3, beating the Lionesses 18-12 in Dubai.

The Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2023 runners-up built an 18-0 lead at The Sevens Stadium with less than 14 minutes to play but were forced to dig deep to secure the victory as Kenya launched an unlikely comeback.

The result lifts Kazakhstan up to fourth in the WXV 3 standings ahead of Friday’s second match in Dubai, between Spain and Fiji.

With both teams held pointless in their WXV 3 debuts, Kazakhstan and Kenya came into this match with a point to prove, adding extra weight to their first meeting at this level. Despite a dramatic final few minutes, it was Kazakhstan who secured their first victory in the tournament.

Kazakhstan took an early lead, scrum-half Daiana Kazibekova darting through a gap to score the first points of the tournament for her team.

Despite a ferocious defensive display from Kenya, Kazakhstan hooker Moldir Askhat added to her team’s lead, collecting the ball at the back of a powerful maul and finding the line with the help of her front-row colleague Natalya Kamendrovskaya.

Possession was traded back and forth with neither side able to maintain more than a couple of phases without turning over the ball.

The relentless pace allowed a number of handling errors to creep into play and while Kenya had the advantage in the scrum, the Kazakhstan lineout operated like a well-oiled machine.

The second half began with a series of probing attacking plays from Kenya that were snuffed out by unrelenting defence.

A TMO check following an attempted ruck clearance led to Kenya replacement Grace Okulu being yellow carded in the 49th minute. The subsequent space allowed Yeva Bekker to cut behind the Kenyan line and score the try that increased her team’s lead to 15 points.

Thereafter, Kenya seemed to grow into the game, Esther Juma and Terry Isabwa stretching the Kazakhstan defensive line, but time and again poor discipline at the breakdown led to possession being lost.

In the 64th minute Kazakhstan were awarded a penalty and Gulim Bakytpek stepped up and deftly slotted the kick to give her side what appeared to be an unassailable 18-0 lead.

But Kenya replied immediately. Capitalising from the restart, Okulu, who had returned from the sin-bin, acted as playmaker to set up Stella Wafula for the try. Okulu then added the conversion.

This lit a fire under the Kenyan players and they flew time and again at the tiring Kazakhstan defence. Nonetheless the Asian team slowly and doggedly worked their way up field only to knock on over the try-line.

Kenya persistence paid off as Prisca Nyerere broke free and flew across the try-line to bring her team within six points of their opponents.

The Lionesses needed a converted try to secure victory and with seconds left on the clock, Kenya secured penalty advantage close to the Kazakhstan try-line.

Wave after wave of red shirts poured forward but the ball was turned over with the clock in the red to confirm Kazakhstan’s win.

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