Quest for revenge anchors Zimbabwe, Kenya rugby final

28 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
Quest for revenge anchors Zimbabwe, Kenya  rugby final

The Sunday Mail

Zimpapers Sports Hub

WHEN Zimbabwe and Kenya meet in the Barthes Trophy final at Harare Sports Club’s Machinery Exchange Stadium today, there will be more at stake than a title, bragging rights and a berth at the Rugby Junior World Trophy.

Some rivalry exists between the two African sides, as it seems Kenya, who are also known as Chipu, got into the competition with one goal in mind — to lift the cup — and, to their credit, the East Africans look like they have what it takes to achieve it.

Kenya Under-20 skipper Edmund Omondi did not mince his words as he put out his team’s only target during the lead-up to the East Africans’ match against Tunisia last Wednesday.

“We mean business and we want to go back home with the trophy,” said Omondi. “Many people (back home) are looking forward to us winning the trophy, and we want to try our best not to disappoint them.”

The back-to-back defeats inflicted on them by Zimbabwe on home turf during the 2022 and 2023 editions of the competition apparently disappointed the East Africans.

Omondi is one of the nine players Kenya head coach Simon Jawichre managed to retain from last year’s contest, and it is safe to say that the Kenya Harlequins flanker’s sentiments are shared by the entire Chipu locker room.

For Omondi and the rest of the Kenyan squad, the game against Zimbabwe is now a personal affair.

And there was no clearer show of intent than Kenya’s 56-17 demolition of Tunisia last week.

After falling behind early to a Tunisian try, Kenya rallied from behind to equalise through Alvin Khavoli’s brace and a try each from Iddo Kuta, Michael Wamalwa, Michael Wamalwa, Bramwell Anekeya, Willy Tino and Brian Shile.

It was a display of intent as Kenya’s power game proved effective in bullying Tunisia into submission.

On Zimbabwe’s side, in skipper Benoni Nhekairo, second rower Tawananyasha Bwanya and coach Shaun De Souza, they have some people acquainted with their East African opponents.

These three individuals know all too well the dangers that the Chipu power game poses.

“Kenya are a very solid team; they have very good forwards and utilise their backs and strong players quite well. It definitely promises to be a very tough game,” said Nhekairo.

“We are at par when you compare their forwards and ours, so that should neutralise their power game. Our advantage comes in the backs department, where ours are faster and better.

“We intend to stick to what got us this far and employ our traditional running style of rugby. After all, we managed to win against them last year at the Barthes Trophy and again at the Junior World Trophy, even going on to put something like 60 points past them. This will be key come Sunday (today).”

Nhekairo’s sentiments were echoed by his co-captain and one of the senior players in the team, Bwanya.

“It is definitely going to be a great game, a physical encounter at that, and we will just have to be up there,” he said.

It is the same message Bwanya and Nhekairo have been preaching to the younger lads in camp.

“We have told them to ready themselves for a very physical contest, but we have been preaching on the importance of sticking to the basics,” said Bwanya.

“Our running style of rugby will be crucial and we have been telling our teammates that we are going to have to outrun them as a means to combat their size advantage.”

Zimbabwe got a taste of what to expect during their last outing, a 35-23 win over Namibia, which demonstrated the Junior Sables’ unheralded defensive effort.

Both Nhekairo and Bwanya commended their charges of much improved effort in that department and, more importantly, on set-pieces and scrummaging.

Namibia, much like Kenya, relied on a power game that was on full display during the two sides’ meeting last weekend.

The win against Namibia did come at a cost as Zimbabwe looked worse for wear the day after.

De Souza gave his boys a day off on Thursday to recuperate.

The bad news for Zimbabwe heading into today’s game is that Tafara Dhewa has been ruled out of this tournament and possibly the Junior World Trophy after sustaining an ankle fracture during the Namibia match.

The forward was supposed to go under the knife on Friday and is expected to take six months to heal.

De Souza has been keeping an eye on Tanaka Mupamhadzi (concussion), Allan Mawunga (ankle), Kholwani Moyo (ankle) and Alex Cairn (quad).

“It was a physical game, a tough encounter, and my guys took a few knocks due to the physical nature of the match,” he said.

“We finished the game with technically 13 men as two of our players had sustained injuries, but we had used up our entire bench.

“Dhewa is definitely out and will be on the sidelines for at least six months after sustaining a fracture on his ankle (fibula and under his foot). Others are just knocks and a few concerns that we will be monitoring in the lead-up to Sunday’s game (today).”

De Souza said Mawunga was feeling better and could be considered for the match.

“Moyo is also carrying a bit of an ankle injury and our medical team will be monitoring and keeping tabs on his and a few other knocks in the lead-up to Sunday (today),” he said.

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