Kenya coach Paul Odera says qualifying for the 2023 Rugby World Cup would “transform” the game in the country but accepts his side faces a difficult route to the tournament.
The Simbas will play the United States, Portugal and Hong Kong over the next fortnight in Dubai, with the side finishing top of the round-robin table booking the last remaining spot in France.
The winners will feature in Pool C next year alongside Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Wales.
Kenya have never qualified for the finals, and are the lowest-ranked side involved in the qualifier at 33rd in the world.
“It’s probably one of the harder routes to get into the World Cup,” Odera told BBC Sport Africa.
“This is a tough one for us, but rankings don’t count for anything when you get on the field. Being Africa’s representative is a great honor and one that we do not take lightly.
“When I look at the predictions and who people think will qualify, maybe we’re not their favorites, but we’re confident about what we have in the team, our ability and what we’re able to do.”
Kenya is one of the core teams of the annual World Sevens Series, and have featured at the past six Rugby Sevens World Cups – reaching the semi-finals in 2009 and 2013 – and the past two Olympics.
However, the country is yet to translate its success to the 15-man game, and sealing a place at France in 2023 could be the catalyst to achieve that aim.
“Our purpose is to transform Kenya through rugby, and qualifying for the World Cup will go a long way in serving that purpose,” Odera said.
“I’m not sure if you can really estimate how important it is, in terms of the interest it will generate and the finances that will come in for the 15-a-side game.
“It will bring a feel-good factor to the country as well, not just with rugby but generally within Kenya.
“The trickle-down effect of some of the finances to the grassroots is also another important factor that we cannot overlook if Kenya do qualify for the World Cup.”
Kenya begin the round-robin against the United States at Dubai’s Sevens Stadium on Sunday (12:00 GMT).
The Americans have featured at every World Cup except the 1995 edition and are 14 places above the east Africans in the World Rugby rankings.
Matches then follow on 12 and 18 November against Portugal (20th in the world) and Hong Kong (22nd) respectively.
The Europeans are targeting a second ever qualification, having been knocked out in the pool stages in 2007 in Wales, while Hong Kong have never appeared at the tournament.
“From Sunday, it’s anybody’s tournament,” Odera said.
“We’ve done our homework on the United States. We think we have the players who are able to fulfil our game plan. It may be Kenya who are in a very comfortable position going into the second round of matches.
“Kenya’s chances of qualifying are as good as any of the other three teams.”
The Kenyans reached the final qualification tournament after finishing runners-up at the Rugby Africa Cup in France in July, where the Simbas were beaten 36-0 by Namibia in the final in Aix-en-Provence.
Yet Odera has had to contend with “quite a number” of changes from that squad, with the experienced Collins Injera among those unavailable for the tournament in Dubai.
“Some have been forced on us through injury, others through unavailability and some through work commitments,” he added.
“The hardest hit section of the team has been the back line.”
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Publish date : 2022-11-06 06:30:00