Namibia wins rugby marathon

By the punter
Jul 07, 2014

A marathon is a tortious race. It requires complete concentration and focus for the entire 42 kilometers.

Catherine Ndereba always referred to as catherine the Great knows something about this race. She once told me: “Respect the distance!” Any marathon is a tactical race which is won by proper planning and energy management.

It is not a sprint! An athlete may sprint to the finish line if that was the plan but the race would have been won long before that.

Kenya is reknown for middle and long distance athletes something which is not lost when any of the rugby teams compete at the top level. Commentators always refer to the running prowess.

Well, qualification for the Rugby World Cup is like a marathon which requires planning which may take more than five years. Africa’s qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and Wales are Namibia.

They ran a tactical race and exploded over the last 80 minutes to overtake Kenya and Zimbabwe who until the last day of the qualifiers in Antananarivo, Madagascar were locked in a tight race.

Like the marathon, the destiny was in the hands of the three teams and arithmetic gave Namibia a slim chance which they took. Going in to the last day, Kenya needed just a point to book a historic appearance at the RWC.

But, the simpler equation was a need to beat Zimbabwe or ensure they got a bonus point by losing with a margin of not more than 11 points. Zimbabwe had to prevent Kenya from winning and getting a bonus point which they did.

The twist here was that, Namibia who were pitted against Madagascar in the last match needed a very big win of more than 50 points to overtake both Kenya and Zimbabwe, if Zimbabwe won.

This is where the analogy of the marathon comes in. Namibia overtook the leaders and sprinted to the finish for the gold. You may argue that they had an unfair advantage because they already knew the results.

Destiny in your hands

Remember in winning a marathon, the destiny is in your own hands. If Kenya and Zimbabwe did what was required of them, they could have controlled their destiny!

The grand finale was dramatic with all the top three teams finishing on 10 points each. But Namibia who led 63-10 at halftime before beating Madagascar 89-10 finished top of the log and gained a direct qualification to the RWC where they will be in the same group with New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia.

Zimbabwe who beat Kenya 28-10 will proceed to the Repechage against Russia in September while Kenya lost the Africa Cup and finished third. Madagascar drops down to the CAR 1B division and their place is taken by Tunisia.

The match between Kenya and Zimbabwe was won in the forwards and at the contact points. Kenyan backs were unable to get clean running ball from the forwards who were outmuscled in the forwards by Zimbabwe.

Slow ball from scrum-half Edwin Achayo put pressure on Lavin Asego at fly half who was rushed by the Zimbabwe defence and had to either take the ball back in or make a desperate clearance. It is here where the game was lost with the Kenyan backrow slow to stabilise.

Zimbabwe also plucked some of Kenya’s balls in the line-out. In the end, it was Zimbabwe who were hungrier for a win and barely let their foot off the gas pedal. Kenya blew hot and cold and were punished by the left boot of Guy Cronje.

He drilled over the first points before Asego levelled in the 10th minute. Kenya heaved a sigh of relief when a bapp by Asego was almost intercepted by Daniel Hondo in the 25th minute.

Zimbabwe continued to beat the gain line but Cronje kicked over a penalty to break the deadlock.

It was left to Humphrey Kayange to look for the ball in the forwards. An inside pass by Asego saw Kayange sprint to the line and Asego convert for Kenya to lead 10-6. Zimbabwe then turned on the screws and scored a try converted by Cronje to lead 13-10 at halftime.

Denied by Zimbabwe

The second half was balanced although Zimbabwe had an upper hand and held on to win. Kenya had a chance to restore parity and get a bonus point but successive phase play were denied by a solid Zimbabwe defence before the final whistle well into stoppage time.

The results also broke Kenyan hearts. Kenya looked certain to progress at least to the Repechage at the beginning of the day, having defeated Namibia earlier in the round-robin competition, but were left to rue what might have been.

At the end, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya all finished on 10 points, but Namibia claimed the title by virtue of having a superior points difference (+76 compared to Zimbabwe +49 and Kenya +23).

Namibia captain Rohan Kitshof said: “It has been a remarkable day and we are so pleased to have made it to England 2015. 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.”

CAR President Aziz Bougja pointed to the strides that African nations are making on the world stage. He said: “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.

I would like to congratulate all the teams for their incredible performances and also congratulate Namibia, who have the honour of representing Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015.”

Line ups

Kenya (1-15): Joseph Kang’ethe, Samuel Warui, James Kang’ethe, Oliver Mang’eni, Wilson K’Opondo (captain), Brian Nyikuli, Michael Okombe, Martin Owila, Edward Achayo, Lavin Asego, Collins Injera, Patrice Agunda, Humphrey Kayange, Michael Agevi, Tonny Onyango.

Zimbabwe: Denford Mutamangira, Leith Murray, Kevin Nquindi, Schalk Ferreira, Sanele Sibanda, Graeme Lawler, Jaques Leitao, Lambert Groenewald, Hilton Mudariki, Guy Cronje, Stephan Hunduza, Daniel Hondo (captain), Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Tangai Nemadire.

Referee: Lourans Van der Merve (SARFU).

Madagascar: Jean Willy Rabemananjara, Jean Felix Andrianjaka, Donald Rakotomialoha, Tolotra Ramaromiantso, Jean de Dieu Rakotonirina,Tiana Ravelomanantsoa,Claudio Ravelomananjara, Touissant Rabearilala, Jacuis Bayard, Jose Rakoto Harison (captain), Hery Ralaimidona, Edmond Rakotoarimanana, Sidonie Lantoniaina Rakotoarisoa, Alain Rakotonirina, Bernard Razafindranaivo.

Namibia: Johannes Redelinghuys, Rathony Becker, Jaco Engles, Munee Tjiueza Uatijueza, Morne Bloom, Rohan Kitshoff (captain) Tinus du Plessis, Renaldo Bothma, Eneill Buitendag, Theuns Kotze, Johannes Tromp, Johan Deysel, Henrich Smit, David Philander, Chrysander Boltha.

Referee: Francisco Pastrana (UAR)