The 2018 Africa Gold Cup break down

The  Africa Gold Cup that acts as a qualifier to the 2019 Rugby World Cup bursts into life on 16 June 2018 with two matches on the cards. 
Uganda travel to Windhoek to face defending champions Namibia on match day one while on the same day,Morocco will be at the Harare Sports Club, facing hosts Zimbabwe Sables.
This will signal the kick off of a gruelling three – month long campaign of a total of 15 matches in which six national teams of Namibia, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and newcomers Morocco will be battling for a place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup scheduled for Japan.
The best ranked nation will book automatic qualification to the 2019 global showpiece while the second placed side heads to a four-team repechage tournament to battle with countries from other confederations to try and seal qualification.
Defending champions Namibia and last year’s runners up Kenya as expected will start as favourites. Namibia will be seeking to reach a sixth successive World Cup.They are the only side apart from South Africa to have featured in all the World Cups since 1999.
The side has done a little shake up in their squad with the likes of Johann Tromp, David Philander and Leneve Damens being left out.
The pair of Philander and Tromp are however handed a lease of life as they are named amongst the 10 players on standby but Damens is nowhere near the 44-man list.
Opponents must however look out for Chrysander Botha at full-back and the youthful Cliven Loubser at halfback as they will be key in Namibia’s title defence.
The Simbas have been buoyed by the arrival of New Zealander Ian Snook on their technical bench.Snook was appointed alongside his fellow New Zealander Murray Roulston who is his assistant.
The duo began their reign on a high, leading the side to a 34-16 win over East African neighbours Uganda in the Elgon Cup first leg.
Three members of the Kenya U20 side in halfback Xavier Kipng’etich,centre Zeden Marrow and Edmund Anya have all been drafted to the senior side with only Kipng’etich having made his debut.He played off the bench in the side’s win over Uganda in Kampala.
Having come agonizingly close in 2014,the side will rely on seasoned players like Darwin Mukidza, Jacob Ojee, Tony Onyango and Peter Karia to secure a historic World Cup qualification.
The Uganda Rugby Cranes, under the tutelage of South African John Duncan will be out to put up a good showing and possibly seal qualification to next year’s global showpiece.
Despite the one month break that the tournament will take to allow for the Sevens World Cup in San Fransisco, USA, Duncan could still be faced with a dilemma as some of his players also turn out for the national 7s team which is preparing for the showpiece.
With the likes of Philip Wokorach and Aaron Ofoyrwoth involved in the shorter version, it will be interesting to see how Duncan goes about it.
The Zimbabwe Sables are also under new leadership after acquiring the services of former Springbok Peter De Villiers.The side had a far from ideal campaign in 2017,finishing second from bottom and they will be out for a much improved showing.
They could also be faced with a similar selection headache just like Uganda as some of their key players in Hilton Mudariki and Connor Pritchard feature for the national sevens side who are set to grace the Rugby 7s World Cup in July.
With their last appearance at the Rugby World Cup having been in 1991,this year provides a perfect opportunity for the side to end the 27-year hiatus.
They have had good preparations, camping in South Africa where they played two warm up matches against Vodacom Blue Bulls U19s as well as an amalgamation of the senior side and the U23s.
The Tunisian’s will take motivation from surviving relegation in 2017 as they prepare for a stab at the 2018 edition. They could not be among the favourites but are expected to provide good competition having stunned the likes of Zimbabwe in 2017.
The Atlas Lions will arguably start this year’s tournament as the whipping boys.They will be participating for the first time since the tournament was renamed the Gold Cup.
Their final appearance was when it was known as the Africa Cup Division 1A from which they suffered relegation.
Upto 500 match officials have been selected to do duty at the tournament with the centre referees expected to come from France and South Africa.
“Each match is of paramount importance given the format of this competitions.The winner of the tournament will be declared after the last matches on August 18th, once the number of points obtained by each team is calculated.”
“That’s why there’s no big or small game in this timetable, it’s a race to the finish line to open the door to the World Cup,” Rugby Africa president Abdelaziz Bougja is quoted by Rugby Afrique. 
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, CEO of APO Group, the main Official Partner of Rugby Africa said: “Rugby is the fastest-growing sport in Africa. In 2002, only six African countries were playing the game, and now Rugby Africa boasts 38 countries.”
“Out of 105 countries playing rugby competitively, one-third are African countries.”
“We are looking forward to witnessing a high quality Rugby Africa Gold Cup as the nations compete for the chance to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2019.”
The matches will be aired on Kwese Sports TV Channels as well as the Kwese Sports Facebook page.

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