Wednesday 22 July 2015....Qualification for RWC 2019 is one of the targets for Kenya head coach Jerome Paarwater after overseeing a dramatic rise in the Simbas’ fortunes.
While Kenya’s 15s team can probably only ever dream of emulating their rugby sevens counterparts and reaching a World Cup semi-final - in the short term at least, there’s no doubt the Simbas are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the longer version of the game.
Wins against higher-ranked opposition in Portugal, Tunisia and Spain and a narrow defeat to Zimbabwe makes for an impressive set of results in 2015, and has led to a double-digit rise to 28th in the World Rugby Rankings.
Kenya’s next test sees then take on Namibia in Windhoek, on 8 August, and Simbas head coach Jerome Paarwater anticipates a lively encounter given recent events between the sides.
Kenya defeated Namibia (29-22) for only the second time in their history at last year’s Africa Cup in Madagascar, and looked odds on to qualify for RWC 2015 only to miss out to the Welwitchias for the direct passage and also Zimbabwe for the repechage spot on point differential.
“I think Namibia are definitely going to come out after us, they’ll have a score to settle after we beat them last year and nearly kept them out of the World Cup," Paarwater said.
“They have all their overseas guys back and are a quality side, but as I said to our guys against Spain, if you want to compete against the best you must be the best.”
Paarwater still works for Western Province as head of talent identification, and the native South African has helped to forge a meaningful partnership between the two organizations.
Western Province part-funded the cost of Kenya’s three-month stay in South Africa while they competed as a ‘Simbas XV’in the 2014 Vodacom Cup, and they continue to be good allies.
“The partnership has been a huge success," he said. "The three months we spent together at the Vodacom Cup made the guys realize what it takes to become a professional. It was a huge thing for them."
“A lot of effort is being put in by Western Province. If I need a defence coach or whatever they are always willing to help out.”
While the athleticism of Kenya’s players has always made them dangerous runners in attack, shutting out the opposition has proved to be a problem in the past. But with only five tries conceded in four matches there are clear signs of improvement in that area.
“When I first arrived to work with Kenya the guys could play rugby but the most important thing was to put the structures in place to help them with the basics of the game – in attack, defence and the kicking game, things we take for granted at Western Province," he added.
“Conditioning was another challenge. I had to tell the props there was a difference between being big and fat. The conditioning programme and the structures we’ve put in place have contributed to the improvements in our defence.
“The guys deserve plenty of credit, too. They have worked really hard and are keen to learn, I wouldn’t have been here so long if that wasn’t the case.”
When Paarwater took over Kenya were in danger of dropping out of the world's top 40 ranked teams. Now they are aiming to reach 25th position and qualify for RWC 2019.
“That’s the plan," Paarwater said. "The biggest challenge for us is to find a sponsor. There is still a lot of work to be done but to do that we need financial assistance. If we can get that we can step up a notch.”
With seven tries in four tests winger Darwin Mukidza has rightly been identified as one to watch, while Joshua Chisanga, “a monster of a number eight”, according to Paarwater, is another youngster who Kenya aim to build their team around.
“One good thing about this team is 90 per cent of the guys are 22-23 years old. The plan is to keep the guys together for the next (World Cup) qualifying rounds, I am blooding some young guys now so they are ready come 2019.”