Lionesses, Uganda renew rivalry in World Cup qualifier

New Zealand’s Theresa Fitzpatrick (right) in action against Kenya in women’s rugby Sevens at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Inset: Janet Okello (right) in a training session. [AFP and Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The Africa Women’s Cup enters matchday two today with the Kenya women’s rugby 15s team, Lionesses, facing familiar foes Uganda at the Bosman Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, at 2 pm.

The four-team tournament, which also has hosts South Africa and Madagascar, is acting as a qualifying event for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

With Lionesses widely tipped to triumph in the East Africa derby and a South Africa win over Madagascar in the second match of the day looking inevitable, this might set the stage for a winner-takes-it-all clash when the Kenyans face South Africa in the last match of the round-robin competition on Saturday.

While Uganda’s Lady Cranes, who are ranked 44th globally by World Rugby are seeking to bounce back from an 89-5 drubbing by tournament favourites South Africa in their opener on Friday last week, Lionesses are eyeing their second win in as many matches having picked a come-from-behind 35-5 win over Madagascar. 

The East African neighbours are renewing their rivalry one month after clashing in the two-legged Elgon Cup which the Lionesses won 79-18 on aggregate but Kenya captain Philadelphia Olando said their massive victory in the Elgon Cup will count for nothing when the two sides meet in Johannesburg.

“Let’s forget about what happened in the Elgon Cup. I know they (Uganda) are going to be a different side despite having lost to us twice this year. I don’t think we shall have an easy time against them,” Olando said before the team left the country.

In their opening match against Madagascar, who were making their debut in international women’s 15s rugby, Lionesses were slow off the blocks, conceding an early try by Voronigue Rasoanekena before they staged a comeback to score six tries and Olando hopes they will be proactive today.

“It is important to improve on that ahead of the next game,” Olando, who was among the try scorers in Friday’s match, told Rugby Africa.

The champions of the event will book an automatic qualification to the World Cup while the runner-up will face South American opposition in a one-off playoff whose winner will play in a four-team repechage next year to try and get the last ticket to the global showpiece.