Defending champions Kenya has not reached the right fitness levels required to successfully defend the Barthés Under 20 Trophy set for Nyayo National Stadium from June 24 to July 3.
With 21 days to go, Head Coach Curtis Olago said the squad will ultimately attain the required fitness in two weeks and therefore chances are high they could retain the title for the second year running.
He said they have so far achieved forty percent fitness levels and that players were steadily improving by the day in their training sessions.
“In two weeks, we’ll have achieved the fitness levels required to retain the title. Players are raring to go and ready to do what is required of them to win the title once again,” Olago told Standard Sports.
A squad of 35 players was selected from different clubs across the country and the tactician said most of them are rookies who are steadily improving by the day in their training sessions.
Four countries in hosts and defending champions Kenya, Namibia, Senegal and Madagascar have confirmed travelling to Nairobi to battle for the title in a round-robin series to decide the winner.
Earlier, it had attracted eight countries with the addition of Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Algeria and Uganda but Rugby Africa reduced the number of participants to four owing to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Barthes Trophy has unearthed future stars over the years and continues to serve as a talent identification platform and elite player pathway.
Asked how they arrived at the four countries, Kenya Rugby Union Director of Rugby Thomas Odundo said they were selected on merit through Rugby Africa rankings.
“Rugby Africa used their latest rankings to decide on the four participants based on their previous performance in the tournament,” Odundo told Standard Sports.
It is held on an annual basis and the winners of the competition earn the right to represent Africa at the World Rugby Junior Trophy.
In 2019, Kenya hosted and won the title defeating the then champions Namibia 21-18. Kenya went on to finish sixth at the World Rugby Junior Trophy in Brazil the same year.
In early 2020, Rugby Africa granted Barthes Trophy hosting rights to Kenya Rugby Union for a three year period until 2022 but it was postponed last year owing to Covid reasons.
Yesterday, Olago who is also the KCB head coach said he’s juggling between the club and national duties in equal measure and hopes to play three matches against Kenya Cup league sides ahead of the tournament.
“My aim is to play three matches against top Kenya Cup League sides to gauge the players before we participate in the tournament,” he said.
In their first match last weekend at ASK Nakuru Showground, Kenya Under 20 side defeated Menengai Oilers 24-22 and hopes to play KCB in Ruaraka tomorrow and Mwamba on Saturday.