NAIROBI, (Rahnuma): Former captain Wilson Kopondo and three new faces were part of the squad of 33 named Sunday by Kenya 15s head coach Ian Snook to prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) Repechage qualifiers in Marseille, France.
The New Zealander who is aiming to lead the East African nation ranked 28th in the world to their maiden global rugby jamboree in Japan next year, handed first call-ups to Thomas Okidia, Ephraim Oduor and Elvis Namusasi.
Curtis Lilako, Oscar Simiyu, Isaac Adimo, Edmund Anya and Erick Kerre were omitted from the line-up to make way for the quartet with Snook and his side launching their preparations for the inter-continental qualifier on Monday in Nairobi.
Kopondo, a star of the 2017 side that finished second in the Africa Gold Cup missed the entire campaign this term where once again, Kenya fell at the final hurdle to continental champions Namibia who outclassed them 53-28 at their Windhoek backyard.
The defeat cost them an automatic ticket to the RWC but in repeating as runners-up in the continental championship that doubled as a qualifier for Japan 2019, Kenya will play in the Repechage slated for Nov. 13 to 23 in Marseille.
Kenya has been seeded third for this competition based on their global ranking of 28 behind Hong Kong, China (21) and Canada (23) with Germany (29) fourth in what will be a tight contest to make the Japan finals.
It was a second successive heartbreak for Kenya in their quest to make the World Cup, having also come close in the qualifiers for the 2015 edition in England.
However, their chance to go begging when they lost 10-23 to Zimbabwe in their last game of a four-nation round robin competition that was held in Madagascar on July 6, 2014, allowing Namibia to steal the direct ticket after they blanked the hosts 80-0 to top the standings.
Kenya will play their opening Repechage match on Nov. 11 against Canada before tackling Hong Kong, China (Nov. 17) and Germany (Nov. 23).
The winner of the intercontinental play-off will join Pool B of the RWC that has titleholders New Zealand, Snook’s former side and nation of birth, African titans and two-time champions South Africa and Namibia.
Prior to their loss against Namibia, Snook who succeeded South African Jerome Paarwater in Jan. had led Kenya to six victories in a row, twice against Uganda, Tunisia, Morocco and Zimbabwe.