Kenya Simbas on Sunday fought back from 14-0 down to draw 19-19 with a highly experienced Hong Kong side in a tightly contested international tie at Rugby Football Union of East Africa grounds.
It was a tale of reversed fortunes for either side as Hong Kong dominated the game while Kenya struggled to settle in despite of playing at home.
Hong Kong went two tries up in the eighth and 13th minutes through centre Tyler Spitz and scrum half Liam Slatem. Fly half Matt Rosslee slotted both conversions for an early 14-0 lead for the tourists.
The Simbas begun to roar midway through the game, with new captain George Nyambua forcing his way to the tryline following a string of well worked pick-and-drive phases. Fly half Kenny Andola slotted the conversion to narrow the gap to 14-7.
The Simbas’ fly half Biko Adema was forced into the bleachers early following an ankle twist after just six minutes of play.
Blindside winger Alex Olaba raced clear for a touch down in the 33rd minute after collecting Nyambua’s an offload. Andola was however unable to convert the try as Kenya closed in 14-12 at half time.
Simbas struggled to piece together more than five phases in the first half, but were ferocious on defence, something that helped keep Hong Kong at bay.
Hong Kong scrum half Slatem got his second try of the game in the 48th minute, when he picked up a loose ball from a breakdown at the halfway line and our traced Simbas fullback Vincent Mose to the corner flag.
The home side, looking more settled and hungry, hit back with a try from back Dennis Muhanji who ran down the right wing to score at the corner. Andola duly converted to tie the game 19-19.
Hong Kong dominated scrums and breakdowns, giving them the lion’s share of ball possession.
Simbas forwards coach Dominique Habimana, who was in charge of the team on this afternoon, gave a run to a number of players that have tasted little international action this season.
Impala’s prop James Kubasu, impressive in Kenya Cup last season, was rewarded with a debut for the Simbas. Habimana attributed the slow start by his charges to stage freight that hindered decision making early into the game. He however lauded the younger players for rallying to get a grip on the game.
“We allowed them (Hong Kong) to take the lead because of butterflies and jitters. We shook it off and should have scored more to take the game. The jitters mostly affected us on the offloads as the boys at times shot too soon. But we shall work on that as we want them to now execute the game plan for 80 minutes,” Habimana said.
Despite several second half breaks and phases in Hong Kong’s red zone, the Simbas were unable to find the finishing touch that would have given them the game.
Hong Kong player Alex Wai-Shing said his side allowed Kenya to spread the ball wide which bogged his teammates down as fatigue took a toll on them midway through the first half.
“This was our first run of the season. Kenya was full of intensity and they were clearly very fit,” he said.
The two sides will meet in the second Test on Saturday at RFUEA ground.