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Bengi believes WRC Safari will offer locals perfect chance to flourish

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – National Championship Premier Class driver Eric Bengi believes the much-awaited comeback of the fabled Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship(WRC) calendar is a perfect opportunity to reignite local drivers’ talent.

The former KNRC Two Wheel, Division One and Group N Champion also believes racing against the big boys of WRC will trigger the much-needed gusto for locals to attack.

“I know for sure that the WRC drivers will whip us out clean but it will be a learning lesson to come back, reset and reflect on what makes them tick and how differently they do their things. I’m sure we’ll all be eager to see what it is that we can learn to become better motorsport people,”Bengi says,

He adds; “It will make us drive on the limit, so thrills and spills are guaranteed. Give Safari three to four years and you will actually see competition from this country. Last year we went out as a team to Zambia to compete in the ARC event. This year we had big intentions to go do a few East African Rally Championship events but this was distracted by the pandemic situation.”

Bengi will be one of the many drivers from the current crop of Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) speedsters to debut at the iconic WRC Safari which will be held next year.

Eric Bengi checking up on his car. PHOTO/Courtesy

From the current group of KNRC drivers, only reigning national and Safari Champion Baldev Chager, Ian Duncan and Carl ‘Flash” Tundo have graced the WRC Safari event.

Legendary Duncan was the last Kenyan driver to lay his hands on a WRC Safari title when he won the 42nd Trust Bank Safari Rally in 1994.

Duncan, Mike Kirkland, Vic Preston Senior/Junior, Shekhar Mehta, Joginder Singh and Patrick Njiru were among the locals who featured prominently back in the Safari day.

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Having run a WRC round 18 years ago, Kenya made the step up to top flight action this year, but the event was pushed to next year due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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“Safari is a good thing to happen. Let me just say that in Africa, Kenya ranks amongst countries with the best drivers among them Manvir (Baryan) who has won the African Championship three years in a row.,”

“To bring the Safari back to WRC is definitely great, thanks to the dedicated WRC Safari Project team led by CEO Phineas Kimathi” added Bengi, who insists there will be a great deal of knowledge transfer.

“There was a lot of knowledge transfer to the locals in all facets of the sport throughout the years. I believe the WRC drivers will give us a shock therapy which will work to build our driving lines. It’s just like when Tapio (Laukkanen) came to Kenya. He gave us a shock therapy and everyone was playing catch-up. I’m sure the WRC is an opportunity to improve our game locally.”

Eric Bengi poses with his car. PHOTO/Courtesy

The Safari was notorious for being by far the WRC’s toughest round. A Safari win was one of motorsport’s most coveted prizes for manufacturers.

The nature of the rally, organised by the WRC Safari Rally Project, a joint venture between the Kenyan Government Sports Ministry and the Kenya Motor Sports Federation, has evolved to fit the modern-day WRC.

The Safari was first held in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and covered Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

Ugandan-born Kenyan Shekhar Mehta holds the record for Safari WRC wins with five victories, including four consecutively. Former world champions Björn Waldegård (four), Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae (both three) were all acknowledged Safari masters.

The rally will be based in Nairobi with the service park and stages located near Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita, north-west of the city in the Great Rift Valley.

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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