Back with a mission: France-based Ambaka joins 15s side for World Cup qualifier in Madagascar

By -RODGERS ESHITEMI: Thursday, May 22nd 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Rugby

By RODGERS ESHITEMI

New Zealand’s Tim Mikkelson scores a try as Kenya’s Willy Ambaka tackles him during the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament on March 23, 2013.  [PHOTO: AFP]

Lyon Olympique Universitaire’s (LOU) explosive winger William Ambaka has arrived in the country ahead of the Kenya Fifteens 2015 African Cup-cum-World Cup qualifiers to be played in Madagascar from June 26.

Kenya will face hosts Madagascar, Namibia and Zimbabwe in Group 1A, with the winners clinching a ticket to England, while the runners-up will get a second chance to qualify via a play-off with a European nation.

The former Harlequins and Shujaa star, who is expected to make his debut for the Jerome Paarwater-trained side that features the Kenya Sevens quartet of Collins Injera (Mwamba), Billy Odhiambo (Strathmore Leos), Oscar Ouma (Nakuru) and Patrice Agunda (Harlequins), will link up with the rest of the team on Thursday at Barclays Sports Club.

Fourth place

Ambaka is returning to the national team for the first time since propelling Kenya to a fourth place finish in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow last year.

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His impressive show in Moscow saw him pen a one-year renewable contract with LOU in August, score eight tries on his debut season and help them get promoted back to the Top 14 French National Rugby League.

He is the fourth Kenyan to play in France after Derrick Wamalwa, Dan Weku and Ted Omondi.

In an exclusive interview with Feverpitch, the 24-year-old Kenya Methodist University graduate expressed his delight at being recalled to the national team and declared qualifying for the England finals as his main priority.

“I earned my first 15s call up in 2009/10, but it was just the provisional squad and I didn’t play. However, I went on to play for Kenya Sevens in Hong Kong (2011).

“I feel great to be back on the team again, “said Ambaka, who arrived last Saturday.

“I’ll do my work like I always do as I learn from my teammates. Being in France doesn’t mean that I know everything. Every time I get onto the pitch, I learn more from my teammates.

“Qualifying for the World Cup is our main target but we must stick to the game plan and give it our all. If we qualify, that will be a dream come true and will change a lot in Kenyan rugby.

Working hard

“As we speak, already people know there is a team in Kenya and most eyes are on us right now. But for us to achieve that, we must keep working hard, remain focused and believe in ourselves,” Ambaka said.

Asked about his experience in France and how he felt after winning the Pro Division Two (Pro D2) championship title, Ambaka said: “It’s a good experience. First season, scoring eight tries and winning the championship with some of the best players in the world – that’s marvellous. I have learnt a lot and I feel blessed to be part of that great team.”

But by his own admission, Ambaka said it’s not easy adapting to life abroad as well as playing in a 15-aside team.

“I didn’t have a good 15s background so it’s very challenging and the first three months were hectic. I couldn’t stand the cold weather of November, December, January and February.

“At the beginning of the season I suffered a back injury that really slowed down my progress. As I struggled to regain fitness, I felt home-sick at some point; I missed my mum, family, food and everything about Kenya. Remember, French classes were also there waiting for me. But I am glad that right now I can speak some French,” he said. —[email protected]

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