Contrast will be the theme of the day as the COC Stadium in Casablanca hosts its first Africa Gold Cup fixture between Morocco and Kenya on Saturday 23 June 2018.
It will be first time in almost a decade that the Simbas travel North seeking to get a maiden win over a Moroccan side that announced their return to the big boys’ club with a gritty arm-wrestle in Harare to share the points with a more seasoned and Pieter de Villiers- coached Zimbabwean Stables.
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Both sides will take the turf on Saturday on the back of starkly contrasting preparations- the Simbas coasting to a comfortable 34-16 victory in Kampala while the hosts had to battle to a bruising 23 all draw in Harare. Another contrast is in playing styles. The rangy, mobile and free running Kenyans under their new Kiwi coaches are the piano players of the tie against a burly and rather direct piano pushing Moroccan side.
The Kenyans are also fielding what appears to be an experimental squad with several interesting positional changes while the Moroccans will likely rely on their tried and tested French-based combinations.
Prolific points machine Darwin Mukidza will lead the Kenyans from the pivot rather than from the back or the wing where he set the Gold Cup alight last year while former Sevens fly half Biko Adema will take his place at the back.
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Kenya has also handed several test, positional and positional debuts with explosive front-row turned back row Philip Ikambili packing down at the side of the scrum. Across them, Morocco will look their bulky tight five and their powerful French based captain Arabat Hocine to grind the Kenyans into submission with plucky halfbacks Ismail Nassik and Hmidouch Chakir pulling the strings.
While recent form favors the Kenyans, the history and home ground decks will favor the North Africans. The Kenyans will be encouraged by the authoritative dismissal of their neighbors in the Elgon Cup while Morocco and particularly Jaoudat Souheyi will want to forget the embarrassing errors that gifted Zimbabwe two soft tries and rely on the grunt of their forwards and tactical nous of their halfbacks that kept them on the game in Harare.
Both sides will take away a lot from the tie with Kenya keen to see how well the positional changes fare in turbulent test waters while Morocco will want to shake off the Silver Cup rust and take a Kenyan scalp by bullying the tourists into submission.
Players to Watch: For Kenya,
Livewire scrumhalf Samson Onsomu and first five Darwin Mukidza will be itching to set the field alight while captain Davis Chenge and hooker turned flank Philip Ikambili will attempt to match the North Africans’ brute forward pack.
The uncapped Mohammed Omollo who has had a stellar season with Enterprise Cup champions Homeboyz RFC will also be looking for a highly anticipated test debut and can cover both halfback positions.
Morocco will also rely heavily on the nippy Ismail Nassik and the gifted but erratic Hmidouch Chakir with his metronomic boot to ensure the big Moroccans play in the right zones.
France-based wing Qadiri Karim also showed rare moments of bruising individual attacking brilliance against Zimbabwe and will look to impose himself at home.
Head to Head; The 8-9-10 match ups are likely to determine the fixture.
First is the captains scarp between athletic workhorse Davis Chenge squaring off with powerful and dynamic Arabat Hocine while the tactical battle of the halfbacks likely to be the highlight of the day. The battle of the boot will also pit Mukidza against Chakir and may determine the winning margin.
Preview by Tun Szu