Friday, 7 December 2012

Can Kenya Rugby 7s sustain the tempo, Mr. Friday?

The 2012-13 HSBC-sponsored IRB Sevens series has started with oomph for the Kenyan team. Last season, the team finished 12th ( last for the initial 12 -core teams) and risked being dropped from the 'core teams' status ( core teams are guaranteed of participation to all tournaments within a given season). Starting this season, IRB has introduced a new set of rules which shall see teams promoted and relegated depending on their final ranking at the end of the season. The series also saw expansion of the initial core teams from 12 to 15.
Back to the Kenyan game, in the off-season, Britain's former rugby player and coach, Mike Friday was hired to bring back some technical expertise and polish the Kenyan game known for its pace and brashness. After missing out on the Safari Sevens shield it seemed like it was 2011-12 season all over again but the last 2 rounds of the series have proved otherwise. So far the team lies joint 2nd overall (with Fiji) with a total amass of 32 points.

South Africa beckons 
The three Kenya 7s Rugby shirts by Samurai Sportswear -
Image courtesy of Samurai Sports
The last event of the series this calendar year in South Africa shall represent a new set of challenge for Mike Friday's charges. First the absence of top try scorer Collins Injera along with experienced hands Biko Adema and Oscar Ouma is bound to be felt. Sydney Ashioya is also out with a hamstring injury. A temporary reprieve is the availability of Humphrey Kayange ( Injera's older brother) who shall be featuring for the national team colours for the first time this season. Call-ups to replace the former include; Billy Odhiambo, Fabian Olando and Oscar Ayondi.

Second, the team has already been seen to be a strong contender for the top 6 finishers and other teams have taken notice. This being the 3rd round you can expect a couple of tactical changes from those teams that have previously looked like walkovers. Though the pool looks favourable with Argentina and Wales being the main threats to clip Kenya's qualification to the Main Cup proper, the battle shall be from the Quarter and Semi-Finals respectively. The Kenyan team has been coming off too close in the finishing and decisive tackles. The conversion kicks have been off the mark especially in the Dubai series. The try-scoring

Third, the South African round is only the third in a 10-tournament series. Can the Kenyan team go the whole hog and sustain these sterling performances? It's been a good thing going but a dip in form might happen anywhere between the Christmas break ( January 2013) and the second one in April 2013. If the boys and technical team keep it together, we've got a good thing going. In any case, if Kenya can gun for a top 6 finish in any of the tournament's that translates to 12 points in the bag.
Points Awarded:
Top 6 finishers in each tournament are awarded points as follows;

  • Cup Winners (1st) -22 points, 
  • Cup Losers (2nd) -19 points, 
  • Cup 3rd-place playoff winner (3rd) -17 points, 
  • Cup 3rd-place playoff/loser (4th) - 15 points, 
  • Plate Winner (5th) - 13 points, 
  • Plate Runner-Ups (6th) - 12 points

Fourth, there was some change in the kit from Gilbey's to the Samurai shirts starting with the Dubai series. This though not a major concern ought to be addressed and finalised by Kenya Rugby Union officials. Shirt sponsorship should ensure that the team has unique identity and also serve to motivate them to improve their performance. There is also the added incentive of monetary amounts if well negotiated. Such details ought to be out in the public domain and not behind boardroom doors.

Fifth, there has been the remuneration and bonuses awarded by the team sponsors' Kenya Airways and also for finishing in the top 4. These monies should be paid as and when available to continually motivate the boys in the team. Donning national colours is a great honour but in this time and age, that honour has a price too. Being a semi-professional team aspiring to become fully professional in the next half-decade, substantive contracts with clear remuneration packages should be in every player's pocket.

Sixth rugby sevens will be premiering in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. Kenya is one of the likely qualifiers from Africa and should ensure it sends the best team to the Games. Though its early days for that, the building blocks start now since over half the team might not be in the running for a place by then. This goes back to the Kenya Rugby Union officials. Ensure wider reach of the game, rigorous recruitment by the clubs, regular technical and development skills to the retiring players and practising coaches, additional investment through sponsorships and grants from relevant corporate bodies and sports bodies among others.

Finally, the same gusto that has been invested in the 7s game should be translated to the 15s game which is still tottering in Kenya. Remember rugby aficionados believe that a country's worth is known by its 15-a-side strength and depth. Are we working on this?

To Mr.Friday and the Kenyan team, Ngikufisela Inhlanhla in Port Elizabeth !

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