ZIMBABWE narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s 2015 Rugby World Cup to Namibia on points difference despite a 28-10 win over the reigning African champions Kenya during the last round of the qualifiers in Antananarivo, Madagascar, yesterday.
Zimbabwe . . . . . . . . . . . (13) 28
Kenya . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
While the win lifted the Sables above Kenya on the log standing on points’ difference, it was not enough to give them automatic qualification as they needed to score four tries to secure the crucial bonus point.
Zimbabwe’s failure to get the fourth bonus points opened the door for the Namibians as it left them needing to beat hosts Madagascar by more than 53 points to deny the Sables.
In the end Namibia, who beat the Sables 20-24 last week, did just that after thumping Madagascar 89-10 to secure Africa’s sole automatic Rugby World Cup ticket and a place in Pool C of the competition where they will play New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia.
Zimbabwe, however, can still qualify for the third Rugby World Cup if they come through the four-team play-off.
If the Sables beat Russia in the first round of the play-offs which according to reports will be played in Siberia next month, they would face either Uruguay or Hong Kong in the final.
Should they win the two legged play-off final, they would secure the last place in Pool A alongside hosts England, Wales, Australia and Fiji.
The Sables should, however, blame themselves for complicating their qualification matrix as they had a chance to set up an opportunity to score the fourth try in the final stages of the match against Kenya.
Leading 25-10 with less than five minutes on the clock, the Sables won a penalty in the Kenyan 20-metre line.
With Kenya down to 14 men, the Sables could have gone for the fourth try, but much to the surprise of many, fly-half Guy Cronje after consultations with teammates decided to go for posts, a decision which in the end proved very costly.
Despite the subsequent failure to automatically qualify for the World Cup, the Sables’ win against Kenya would rank as one of their most brilliant wins in recent years.
The Sables got their points through three tries from man- of-the-match Hilton Mudariki, centre Riaan O’Neill and fly-half Guy Cronje who also chipped in with three penalties and two conversions.
Kenya touched down once through centre Humphrey Kayange with fly-half Lavin Asego’s conversation and a penalty earning their other points.
The Sables showed great character to fend off a spirited display by the Kenyans, who had fate in their own hands before the match.
Kenya were hot favourites to make history by winning, qualifying for their first-ever Rugby World Cup as they could even afford to lose with a bonus point or even draw and still qualify.
Prior to yesterday’s match Zimbabwe had played the Kenyans 15 times since 1981, winning 10 times against Kenya’s five victories.
They made it 11 wins yesterday with a perfomance that will rank as one of their best wins in recent memory, although the only blemish was their failure to get the crucial bonus point.
Zimbabwe proved once again to be too strong for Kenya after outclassing them in the forwards department where they dominated the line-outs, scrums and break downs. The Sables who have been to the World Cup twice in 1987 and 1991, drew first blood after pilling pressure to the Kenyan try line resulting in a penalty that Cronje converted for a 3-0 lead.
Kenya won a penalty of their own a few minutes later that Asego converted to put the matters level, but it did not take long before Cronje extended the lead through a penalty for a 6-3 lead.
Centre O’Neill, who was impressive yesterday, surged over for the Sables’ first try of the match just before halftime after some good work by front rowers Denford Mutamangira and Kevin Nqindi.