What Next, After Simbas Heart Break?
On Saturday afternoon, at the 79th minute mark, the scoreboard at the RFUEA read 29-27 in favour of Kenya against Germany. The Simbas were on course for a sixth straight home win under Jerome Paarwater.
In the minutes leading up to this. the German’s had uncharacteristically missed a couple of penalties within striking range in quick succession, Kenya were down to 14 men and defending for their lives. Anxious faces in the crowd re-assuring themselves, ‘Hii ni yetu..tuko nayo!’
It was however not to be as with the last play, almost reminiscent of Johny Wilkinson’s last gasp drop goal to win the 2003 World cup. Chris Hilsenbeck, who had missed two penalties in quick succession so far, stepped up to slot in a drop goal from the 40 meter mark and plunge the RFUEA into dead silence, as the final whistle filled the air.
The Simbas had been handed a brutal lesson in efficiency, especially at the forwards, the German win here was well deserved. For a team that had in the past, heavily depended on fluid fast play in these conditions, this Simbas side lacked that killer instinct to capitalise on those ‘wamejishika magoti’ moments.
It was a test match that started with as much drama as it ended with. The sides sharing 8 points within the opening 3 minutes of the match. First it was Chris Hilsenbeck from a penalty to hand Germany a 3-0 lead, the Simbas replied immediately from the restart, when Martin Owilla released Eric Kerre who galloped all of 50 meters to score and take the score to 5-3.
From this point, the Simbas showed sparks of brilliance in open play, but nothing was able to disrupt the German defence. The visitors started showing their dominance in the set piece, winning the first line out of the game, from a Kenyan throw. Then came the first scrum…
From a Kenyan feed, our scrum was simply obliterated, we managed to scramble away with the ball, so did we in the second put in minutes later. By the third scrum, this time from their put in, it was clear that we were going to be in for a long evening at the scrum, as they nicked a penalty, a first of many.
Moments later, the Germans plucked their first ball from a Kenyan ruck, inside 10 minutes the visitors had set the tone for this test match. It was however the Simbas who stretched their lead,through captain fantastic, Wilson Kopondo, to make it 12-3. We had only done a quarter of an hour.
The visitors were thriving in the set piece, the hosts in open play. At some point, something would have to give, as we had seen with previous visiting sides, the climatic conditions always played to our favour.
We went into the half time break, leading 12-10, the Germans will surely fade away at some point in the second half, right?
The half didn’t begin as per the script for the Simbas, finding themselves 15-12 down inside the opening 5 minutes. through a Kehoma Brenner try, the blind side flanker who was my man of the match. That try coming from a loose Kenyan ball, Kehoma out sprinting the Kenyan defense to score.
The Germans grew in confidence as they blew apart a couple of more scrums, but we refused to bulge. In fact, our next try came from one of our back pedaling scrum put ins, the visitors shoving us a good 5 or so meters back, Nyambua doing enough to regather the ball from the side of the scrum.
Two phases later, Mukidza was flying on the blind side, shrugging off two defenders before releasing Sam Onsomu who finished off in style, Mukidza made no mistake with the extras, taking the score to 19-15. We had now done the first quarter of the second half.
A 5 meter scrum in Kenya territory, saw great coordination between Onsomu, Ikambili in torrential conditions, Owilla picking up the quick ball. This phase of play would end with Davis Chenge breaking the line but just failing to spot Onsomu’s run on the inside for what would have been a sure try.
Moments later, from a German Maul inside the Kenyan 22, the Simbas reacted quickest to a loose ball, Adema from the base of the ensuing ruck swinging the ball wide to eventually end up in the hands of Ojee. The swag runner slapping his way past the first tackle for a 70 meter sprint before offloading to Ambunya for the try at the 60th minute mark.
It was the first time in the match that Kenya had played with any confidence in their ability out wide, something we were almost accustomed to in previous tests. Mukidza would add the extras, to make it 26-15, calls of ”Weather yetu sasa..” Could be heard from the crowd, indicating that the climatic conditions were finally getting to the Germans.
We were 11 points up, with a little over 15 minutes go. Before the Germans started eating at that lead, first from a grinding try off a maul, to make it a 4 point game at 26-22. A Darwin Mukidza penalty would put a bit of light between the two, at 29-22 as we entered the last 10 minutes.
Almost immediately, the Germans replied, off the kick off they won a line out just outside the Kenya 22, played a couple of phases close, before swinging it wide to Harris Aounallah for the try, 29-27. The Germans were refusing to fade away.
Chris Hilsenbeck would miss the conversion from 30 or so meters out, again missing from a penalty after Martin Owilla saw yellow for a high tackle on the Kenya 40 meter line, at the 75th minute. The Germans were running rampant in these closing stages, something we usually see the Kenyans do in these stages.
The visitors then changed their kicker for the next penalty, from right about the same distance Chris had missed, with the same result. Surely their luck had run out. From a Kenyan line out inside their five yard line, Mukidza booted the ball to find touch between the German 40 and 50 meter lines. Ref indicating that there were 30 more seconds to play.
The Germans would claim the resulting line out, forming a maul which they successfully milked a penalty from, after shoving a good 10 or so meters, but before the ref could finish saying “Advantage Black..” The ball was shifted to Chris Hilsenbeck, standing from the same spot the previous kicker missed from, as cool as a cucumber, slotted the drop goal to break Kenyan hearts.
You could taste the silence and utter disbelief that had gripped the RFUEA, that was a few moments ago engulfed pomp, flair and good cheer. Germany had snatched a win from the jaws of defeat, “Walitutoa nyama kwa mdomo.”
The German win was by all means deserved, against a new look Simbas side that probably did not have the experience of sides past. So where do we go from here?
The technical bench will have a decision to make before travelling to Uganda in a fortnight. Do they bolster this squad with some of the experienced players they left out, or do they keep their faith in the new charges who would have picked up a lot of lessons in this test?
We know for a fact that Joshua Chisanga will be available for the trip, but with the injuries to K’Opondo and Kaaria placing doubt on their availability, we will need a lot of work if not help as far as our set pieces go.
The physical battle in Kampala will probably be just as brutal as it was here against the Germans, if not a notch higher, another perfect battle ground to put this side to the test. The match in Kampala is not recognized as a full test, only the return in Nairobi is, could we maybe give this side another shot then prepare for the test match in Nairobi on the 24th.
The aim this year is definitely to remain within the 1A picture for the World Cup qualifiers next year. To achieve that, we need at least two wins against one of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal and Tunisia. Can we achieve that with this current side?
We clearly don’t look like we have enough in the tank to see us through this hectic international calendar. Remember we still face Hong Kong in August and a possible 4 nations tour later in November.
The technical bench do have a real call on their hands, lets see which way they go.
P.S You guys outdid yourselves at the RFUEA, you are the real MVPs, lets do it again on the 24th shall we?