Former Kenya 15s captain Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu is among six experienced players set to return to the team for a series of Test matches this year.
The 33-year-old Impala centre, who captained Kenya Sevens between 2006 and 2008 and the 15s side in 2008 to 2011, sustained a career-threatening knee injury during the 2011 Bamburi Series.
Simiyu returned to the pitch in 2014 to coach and play for Impala but he has not played for Kenya Simbas. The same year, he won the Comeback Award during the Sports Personality of the Year (Soya) Gala.
“It feels great to be back. Although it’s challenging, it’s exciting how the game has changed. The game is now more physical but we are up to the task,” he said. Others returning to the team are Simiyu’s brother, fly-half Nato (Impala), centres Patrice Agunda and David Abuya (Harlequin), back-row Dan Sikuta (Mwamba) and front-row Dennis Karani (Impala). The five have not played for Simbas since South African Jerome Paarwater was named coach in 2013.
England-based Joshua Chisanga (Newcastle Falcons) and hooker Peter Karia, who is based in South Africa, have been named in the final squad of 39 that will play seven Test matches this year. Kang’ethe twins of front-row Joseph and James are also back.
Team manager Wangila Simiyu on Tuesday said nine players will make their debut. They are front-row Joseph Odero (Nakuru), back-row Tony Owuor (Strathmore), Dalmus Chituyi (Nakuru) and Dan Sikuta (Mwamba) and hooker Philip Ikambili (Homeboyz). Others are locks Simon Muniafu and Eric Kerre (Impala) and scrum-halves Kelvin Masai and Sam Onsomu (Impala).
“We have a good blend of youth and experience but our emphasis has been on front and back-rows considering the opposition we will face,” said Wangila.
“We want to build a strong team that will challenge for a slot in the 2019 World Cup.”
The team will start their campaign in Kampala with the Elgon Cup’s first leg on June 4 before traveling to Rio for a test match with Brazil on June 18.
The team will get down to back to back Africa Cup fixtures away to Zimbabwe and Namibia on July 9 and 16 in Harare and Windhoek respectively.
The quest for regional dominance will come to Nairobi’s doorsteps on July 30 when the Simbas welcome Uganda for an Africa Cup fixture that will double up as the Elgon Cup’s return leg.
Two Test series against Hong Kong on August 23 and 27 respectively in Nairobi will cap their fixtures for the year.
Last year, Kenya stunned Portugal and Spain 41-15 and 36-27 respectively in test matches to scale to 27th place, their best ever ranking by World Rugby. They finished third in the Africa Cup Division 1A behind winners Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Uganda claimed the Elgon Cup last year when they beat Kenya “A” 47-45 on aggregate.
Front Row: Moses Amusala (KCB), Joseph Kang’ethe (Harlequins), Curtis Lilako (KCB), Dennis Karani (Impala Saracens), Joseph Odero (Nakuru), James Kang’ethe (Harlequins)
Hookers: Peter Karia (KCB), Philip Ikambili (Homeboyz), Sammy Warui (Nakuru)
Locks: Oliver Mang’eni (KCB), Ronnie Mwenesi (Nondescripts), Simon Muniafu (Impala Saracens), Eric Kerre (Impala Saracens)
Back Row: Brian Nyikuli (Strathmore Leos), Mike Okombe (Nakuru), Tonny Owuor (Strathmore Leos), Dan Sikuta (Mwamba), Dalmus Chituyi (Nakuru), Martin Owila (Nakuru), Lawrence Buyachi (Nakuru), Joshua Chisanga (Newcastle Falcons), Max Adaka (Kabras Sugar)
Scrum Halves: Lyle Asiligwa (Harlequin), Edwin Achayo (Kabras Sugar), Samson Onsomu (Impala Saracens), Kelvin Masai (Homeboyz),
Fly Halves: Nato Simiyu (Impala Saracens), Isaac Adimo (Harlequins)
Centres: Nick Barasa (Kabras Sugar), Patrice Agunda (Harlequins), David Ambunya (Harlequins), Fabian Olando (Kabras Sugar), Innocent Simiyu (Impala Saracens)
Wings: Darwin Mukidza (KCB), Dennis Muhanji (Kenya Harlequin), Enock Makinga (Nondescripts), Cyprian Kuto (Strathmore Leos)
Fullbacks: Vincent Mose (Impala Saracens), Tony Onyango (Strathmore Leos)