Kenya Must Aim High at Sydney Sevens
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: Kenya players greet their supporters during the 2016 Sydney Sevens at Allianz Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)

Kenya began the 2017/18 HSBC Sevens Series hopeful to again perform on the worlds stage. They kicked-off the season at the Dubai Sevens by reaching the Cup quarter final stages, but disappointed their fans at the Cape Town Sevens. So to open the New Year, Kenya must aim high at the Sydney Sevens in three weeks time.

The Kenyan squad are better prepared than in 2016. Head coach, Innocent Simiyu, gets to take charge for the second season in a row, something that has not happened for the last few years of the World Series.

Last season they were extremely inconsistent, as Kenya only reached two quarterfinals with reasons that were counter to producing results on the field. There was no pre-season, the coach was only appointed a few weeks prior to the season launch. Also, players had contractual issues not resolved by the Kenya Rugby Union. It was more than difficult, and they finished in a lowly 12th place.

Gladly, that is written to history in 2017. A more positive environment surrounds the squad, and even counting the opening two tournament results, things are looking much better for Kenya rugby sevens.

Kenya Must Aim High at Sydney Sevens

“I feel less pressure, the first year I had a lot of pressure being the first year as the national coach. Having to coach with no management team and starting my coaching by sorting the issues that were on the team and trying to change the culture,” Simiyu said in an 2017 interview in Nairobi.

After the opening rounds, Kenya had one fair and one poor result. If they hold any ambitions of success, the Shujaas need to use their resources well.

2017/18 Availability of Senior Players Key to Success

Players who debuted last season will now have a base of experience that can be supported by the availability of senior players. Star like Collins Injera, Oscar Ayodi and Willy Ambaka are available to select, which is a huge boost–and will boost the confidence of the youngsters that Innocent Simiyu can select from.

Injera, a candidate for VIP in an game he plays, is just one of a keystones that the side will stand upon at the Sydney Sevens tournament. Now, when looking at the entire squad named for the 2017/18, fans have something to smile about as there is depth; unlike in the previous season.

19 players were contracted for the season, and with Rugby World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games forming part of this season’s campaign, Simiyu has brought back the likes of Ian Minjire.

Minjire plays for local side Impala Saracens and was instrumental on the local sevens circuit. With his years of experience, it is an asset which the whole squad can benefit from. He will be joined by ‘young turks’ like Harold Anduvati, Monate Akwei, Arthur Owira Sam Muregi and Eric Ombasa, who have been brought in to bolster the squad.

One highlight of the season so far, is Samuel Oliech. With five tries from 10 matches, he is a firework that can go off during the Sydney Sevens.

“We’ve worked on the skills of the players to try and up-skill them a bit. We’ve worked on the conditioning which was a big factor for us last season and we expect better results and a bit more clarity in our game in regards of how we play just to try to bring more structures so that we can have more longevity in how we play,” added Simiyu.

Kenya Sevens go back to the Drawing Board

“I think this year we have come to close so many times losing in the last two minutes, by a try or conversion so we just need to go back to drawing board. We hope we’ll use some of the same plans or, more or less improve on them.

“The fact that we’ll have corrected two parts of our game; being skills and conditioning, I think we may get better results”

Simiyu is expected to rotate the squad throughout the season, as the likes of Dan Sikuta, Oscar Ouma and Dennis Ombachi are available again and fully fit. Depth was a key issue for the Kenyan side last season, as experienced during Hong Kong tournament, when embarrassingly two players pulled out.

Strength and conditioning coach Geoffrey Kimani has been contracted again, after not being involved for one season. The 2015 Kenya World Championship Athletics sprint coach was in charge of the team during the 2016 Singapore Sevens win, and the Rio Olympic Games campaign. He was greatly missed in the season he was not involved in, and the players will all benefit from his inclusion.

New Leadership from Oscar Ayodi

Homeboyz centre Oscar Ayodi gets to lead the team this season, with assistance from experienced forward Oscar Ouma as his lieutenant. Taking over from Andrew Amonde; who is now concentrating more on playing Ayodi will bring a fresh approach.

“It is a challenge I will take in my stride. We are going into the season confident and hopefully, the results will show”, said Ayodi.

“Heading into the season, we are confident we shall deliver.”

The return of Billy Odhiambo – arguably the 2017 player of the year – in early 2018 will give Simiyu more options, as the season reaches the latter stages. But the next stage is also just as critical. The Sydney Sevens is where Kenya must aim high, to stay up near the top of the HSBC Sevens Series standings.

Kenya Sevens 2017/18 squad:

  • Props: Andrew Amonde, Harold  Anduvati, Herman Humwa, Ian Minjire, Oscar Ouma, Dan Sikuta, Willy Ambaka
  • Hookers: Arthur Owira, Frank Wanyama, Jeff Oluoch, Monate Akwei, Bush Mwale
  • Scrumhalves: Brian Tanga, Collins Injera
  • Flyhalf: Eden Agero
  • Centres: Eric Ombasa, Oscar Ayodi, Samuel Oliech, Billy Odhiambo
  • Wing: Dennis Ombachi, Nelson Oyoo, Sam Muregi.

Kenya Sevens is one team ‘which no one can take for granted’ even though they have fallen in recent years. They need to get back to what they are known for, and challenge for cup wins not challenge trophies. The Sydney Sevens is the next big step for Innocent Simiyu and his group.

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Kenya are drawn in Pool B at the Sydney Sevens, January 26-28.

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