Kenya have a golden opportunity to claim their first major continental silverware when they face Tunisia in the Africa Cup final at the RFUEA grounds on Saturday.
The sudden withdrawal of Morocco and Namibia from the top Confederation of Africa Rugby (CAR) Cup Division 1A top-tier might have eased things for the two teams.
Continental rugby chiefs remained tight-lipped on the action to take against Morocco and Namibia as they proceeded to an executive committee meeting in Nairobi on Friday.
A lot is at stake for the two sides that are yet to win the title.
However, Tunisia, who reached the 2002 and 2008/2009 final, go into the match commanding a better head-to-head record with three wins against Kenya’s two in previous meetings dating back 14 years ago.
Tunisia ranked 36th
Tunisia claimed the scalp of the Kenyans 52-5 when the teams first met in Tunis in 1997 but Kenya hit back with two successive wins in Nairobi; first a 37-15 victory in 2005 in CAR Cup and a 25-21 success in 2006 during the Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
But Tunisia later beat Kenya 31-12 in 2006 and 44-15 in 2008 in CAR Cup and World Cup qualifiers respectively.
Tunisia are placed 36th globally in the IRB World rankings, four places above Kenya. Namibia are 19th and Morocco 26th, with South Africa being the best placed African team at 4th.
Kenya coach Michael “Tank” Otieno said even though his charges are not well conditioned to scratch, they are ready for Tunisia whom he respects for their explosive set-pieces and highly technical and skilful play.
“They are quite skillful and technically swift in set-pieces. It’s a challenge we must face and do our best to neutralise,” said Otieno.
Tunisia coach Mohammed Ali Naouali said his team, which boasts eight players based in France and five new caps, usually perform better away.
“But Kenyans are pretty fast in open play and that could be hinged on their versatile sevens players,” said Naouali.
“The withdrawal of Namibia and Morocco is regrettable but this will be to our advantage.
One player who can’t wait to lift the diadem on his first cap is the 27-year-old Kenya Commercial Bank fullback Matthew Musita.
“It’s a feeling that can’t be explained. It can only be experienced,” said Musita, who started playing rugby at 17 while in Form Three at St Paul’s Amukura back in 2001.
“We must believe in our abilities. We can beat them since we have done it before. It’s all about team work and self belief,” said Musita.
Zimbabwean Gabriel Masenda will be the centre referee for the match. The Harare-based whistler was voted Zimbabwe referee of the year in 2010.
His compatriot, Nsikelelo “Sykes” Sibanda and Uganda’s Ramsey Olinga will be first and second assistant referees.
Kenya: 1.Joel Ng’ang’a, 2.Vincent Ongera, 3. Dennis Karani, 4.Anthony Mutai, 5.Ronnie Mwenesi, 6.Duncan Ekasi, 7.Andrew Amonde, 8.Brian Okwomi, 9.Charles Kanyi, 10.Linus Simiyu, 11.Victor Sudi (captain), 12.Patrice Agunda, 13.Anthony Nyandigisi, 14.Vincent Mose, 15.Mathew Musita; Reserves: 16.Curtis Lilako, 17.Daniel Kiptoo, 18.Dennis Mwanja, 19.Kevin Umbuge, 20.Peter Mutai, 21.Isaac Adimo, 22.Kelvin Omiyo
Tunisia: 1.Chahir Aouadi, 2.Mohamed Ali Kochlef, 3.Hedi Souid, 4.Mourad Souid, 5.Letaif Nasseredine, 6.Khaled Zegden (captain), 7.Abelmajid Zemzem, 8.Dridi Mohamed, 9. Nizar Ben Abdelwahed, 10.Salim Barhoumi, 11.Gafsi Mohamed Ali, 12.Lamjed Charrada, 13.Kilifa Chamssedine, 14.Chelli Heithem, 15.Marwen Ben Yahya; Reserves: 16.Nizar Abdelrahmen, 17,Mliss Mohamed, 18.Souguir Abederrazak, 19.Seif ben Abdelrahmen, 20.Habib Kouch, 21.Jabri Chadi, 22.Guetari Moktar