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Vodacom Cup is the best thing ever for Kenya 15s

The national 15s team is expected to land in Cape Town on Monday, where they will stay for two months and participate in the Vodacom Cup.

Kenya is the third team from outside South Africa to compete in the tournament, and only the second national side to be invited.

Namibia’s Welwitschias is the only other national team to have participated in the Cup. Argentina’s Pampas XV, made up of upcoming players, has previously played in the championship.

For years, the national 15s team played second fiddle to their 7s counterparts and at one point it appeared consigned to oblivion.

While Kenya’s participation in the Vodacom Cup has been welcomed, however, it is their chances of doing well that has elicited mixed reactions.

Aiming for growth

Kenya Rugby Union chairman Mwangi Muthee said the team’s main goal is growth and not challenging for the title.

“We are the African Champions and are a step away from qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. Participation in the Vodacom Cup couldn’t come at a better time. Every player heading to South Africa would return with better skills,” said Muthee.

He said the players who missed the South Africa tour because of work commitments would be replaced.

“It is unfortunate that some members of the team could not make it. But we are not worried about that because all players in the team are fit for the role. The important thing is to gain experience. We have players as good as any of those from other rugby power houses who only require a little polishing up,” he added.

Denied leave

Nakuru players Sammy Warui, Lawi Buyachi and Isaiah Nyariki, and Nondescripts’ lock Ronnie Mwenesi pulled out of the team because they were unable to get two months leave from their places of work.

This, once again, brings to the fore the debate about Kenyan rugby turning professional if we hope to catch up with other 15s giants

The unavailability of the Nakuru trio is rather unfortunate, as their participation would help boost diversity of the local game.

For several years, it seemed one had to play for one of the Ngong Road three -Kenya Harlequins, Impala or Nondies, to get a call up to the national team.

But things have changed, and Nakuru – the Kenya Cup champions – supplied six players to the national team; Mike Okombe, Martin Owila, Philip Owuor, Edwin Makori together with Warui and Buyachi.

Previously, players worked hard in the 15s team only to earn a place in the 7s squad that had better pay, more publicity and offered more opportunities for exposure.

Muthee said KRU was working towards strengthening the 15s’ game, and the union hoped Kenya would in future play in the Currie Cup – South Africa top tier rugby tournament.

Muthee said the 15s players had received good contracts such as those given to the second tier Kenya 7s players.

Although he declined to confirm the exact amount, the figure was estimated to be Sh80,000 per month.

Fifteens’ head coach Jerome Paarwater will use the Vodacom Cup to prepare the team for the Confederation of African Rugby Cup, that doubles up as the 2015 World Cup qualifiers.

Paarwater and his charges will be under pressure from Kenyan fans, who are known to be impatient for results.

His 7s counterpart Paul Treu got a backlash from fans on social media after the Las Vegas and Wellington legs of the IRB World Sevens Series, as they felt his three months with the team warranted a better performance than the Bowl title.

Now more than ever, local rugby fans need to learn to be patient because even for South Africa their prowess did not come overnight.

Once Kenya returns from the Vodacom Cup it can wallop any national team and probably only face stiff challenge from Namibia.

Previous encounters with South African sides have not gone Kenya’s way in the 15s game, as they have more often than not soaked in over 100 points.

Kenya’s best performance against any South African team was against Mpumalanga Pumas in 2011 when the team visited and played two games against our national side.

Kenya went down 27-41 and 48-22 in the first and second games respectively in a marked improvement from a few years before when they lost 5-105.

Kenya 15s captain Wilson K’opondo believes they could win a few matches. 

“We may not be the best team at the tournament but our goal is to improve. We cannot achieve that by playing against teams in the same level as we are. That is why we are looking forward to the experience we shall receive from the Vodacom Cup,” said K’opondo.