What you need to know:
- Captain Sikuta rallies his troops against USA
Kenya Simbas take on the United States of America in their opening match of the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) final qualification tournament on Sunday from 3pm at Sevens Stadium in Dubai.
Head coach Paul Odera has retained the bulk of his starting 15 players that played at the 2023 RWC Africa qualifiers in July in France.
There are only two noticeable changes to the squad. Geoffrey Ominde, who last featured for Kenya Simbas in the Currie Cup in June, starts as fly half while Geoffrey Okwach who has been out with injury since early this year, makes a comeback at the right wing.
Loose-head prop Andrew Siminyu will also feature in the match, but he will be coming off the bench together with youngster Joshua Weru who will earn his first cap.
The Simbas will then take on Portugal; on November 12 before wrapping up their campaign for a place in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France with a match against Hong Kong on November 18. The tournament is being played on round robin basis.
The Simbas missed out on direct qualification to the 2023 RWC after losing 36-0 to Namibia in the final of the 2023 RWC Africa Cup in July in France.
The USA Eagles, who have only failed to qualify for the RWC once since 1987, dropped to the final qualification round (Repechage) after losing to South American opponents Uruguay and Chile in the finals of the first and second round of Americas qualifiers respectively.
Portugal were the first to secure a place in Repechage after qualifying as the third-highest ranked team from the last two editions of the Rugby Europe Championship.
Hong Kong lost 42-22 to Tonga in the Asia/Pacific 1 play-offs on July 23.
The USA Eagles lie 17th in Test rankings, and Portugal complete the top 20.
Hong Kong is ranked 22nd and Kenya 33rd. The USA Eagles historically have been a powerhouse among the Americas when it comes to World Cup qualification. They’ve participated in eight of the nine tournaments held to date, the exception being in 1995.
Odera said that his charges need a positive mindset against the highest ranked teams in the final qualification tournament.
“The biggest challenge we have had so far is adjusting to the heat but it’s manageable, considering the substantial heat we’ve experienced in Nairobi in the last few weeks as well as in Gilgil,” Odera said, adding that the two-week high altitude training the team attended should work in favour of his boys.
“Altitude and heat are two combinations that have helped us adjust to the weather in Dubai. We’re happy with how the combinations are coming together, we have no injuries and that is a very good thing.”
Kenya Simbas skipper Daniel Sikuta said they will treat every game as a final, starting with today’s match against USA which he termed “main challenge.”
Kenya v USA (3pm)
Portugal v Hong Kong (5.30pm)
Portugal v Kenya (3pm)
USA v Hong Kong (5.30pm)
Hong Kong v Kenya (3pm)
USA v Portugal (5.30pm)