Kenya Sevens – Seven Top Moments of the Rugby 7s team

2016 marks a momentous year for the game of rugby and in particular the shorter version in the Sevens. Taking a look at both the 2015/2016 IRB Sevens Series and the Olympic Games in Rio in August, Kenya’s team is well-placed to claim its place and maybe rewrite history too…
20 years ago, the Kenya 7s affectionately known as Kenya Shujaa team journey started in earnest as one of the most exciting and hard-working teams in the rugby series. It also marked a start of its major sporting event in Kenya in the Safari Sevens. Through this storied past, we have decided to take a sneak peek of the top 7 moments of the game in the last 20 years since it gained prominence in this part of the world.


[NOTE: This is no scientific list and its given its order more by the chronology of events.]

1. Kenya qualifies for 3rd Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2001) in Argentina

It had taken about 5 years to build a formidable team. The team had played as an invitational team at the Middlesex 7s,  Commonwealth Games in 1998, as as Dubai and Stellenbosch legs of the inaugural IRB Sevens series in 1999. The Safari Sevens also worked to whip up local team support and appetite for the game, as well as expose the team to opposition of similar experience.
At the third edition of the Rugby Sevens World Cup, Kenya announced its entry into the global stage.
From Africa there were its more fancied counterparts in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Though the team didn’t score any victories thus finishing last in the Pool (along with Fiji, Argentina, South Korea, Russia and Ireland), they did play in the Bowl beating France 12-5 before losing in the semis to Chile.

2. Kenya beats Australia – Hong Kong Sevens (2002) – IRB Sevens Series 2002/2003

Following good outings in 2001 and 2002 in various invitational tournaments and the Commonwealth Games, Shujaa team was slowly cementing its place in the game. In 2002 at Wellington 7s in New Zealand, Kenya caused a major upset topping Australia 15-12. By the end of the IRB series, Kenya was placed in the ninth position finishing within the top 10 bracket.

Ben Ayimba’s a coming for you…Image courtesy of www.kenyapage.net

The performances in this season helped the team’s campaign in becoming a core team of the IRB Sevens Series in 2004. The series usually comprises of 15 ‘core’ teams named each season depending on their experience and performance of past seasons.

3. Kenya finishes joint 3rd at 5th Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2009) in Dubai,UAE
Come 2009, the Shujaa team was enjoying a rare era of success despite having a semi-professional team. It had managed to groom some great talent that even one of its players became coach and helped it one of its best seasons ever.
That player was none other than Benjamin Ayimba. Initial skepticism coming from many quarters was quickly vanquished when the team reached 7 out of 9 semi-finals and 1 final of the IRB series. In H. Kayange and C. Injera, the team had two players who came of age and produced try after try.

In the same year, the Rugby Sevens World Cup was held in Dubai, UAE. They played in a tight pool consisting of England, Tunisia and Hong Kong emerging second.  The team scored a major win over Fiji beating them 26-7 in the quarter-finals, before losing out to Argentina in the semi-finals. The team would finish joint 3rd with Samoa.

These accomplishments saw the team’s Collins Injera and Humphrey Kayange awarded the Order of the Golden Warrior (OGW) by the Head of State for their role.

4. Kenya beats New Zealand  AND
Kenya reaches Final  of Wellington Sevens (2013) – IRB Sevens Series 2012/2013

2010 and 2011 were tough years for the team and the mixed performances had the Kenya Rugby Union and sponsors influence the hiring of the management team. On the field though, Kenya Shujaa had by now become a crowd favourite and attracting attention across the series tournaments.
Once again, at the Wellington 7s, the team bested a top seed this time ,the hosts New Zealand in a memorable game. The game ended 19-14 to mark Kenya’s first roll into a Final.

In the final, Kenya was primed to play England – so much for patriotism on the side of coach Mike Friday who’s English native. If the semi-final game was a toughee, the final was a cracker and nerve-wrecking affair, requiring extra-time to be decided. And were it not for captain Andrew Amonde and Oscar Ouma being sin-binned, maybe it would have gone either way…see below;

5. Kenya finishes 5th in IRB Sevens Series for 2012/2013

Sterling performance by Kenya Shujaa finishing in its best ever position , 5th in the IRB Series deserves a mention. Given Mike Friday’s hard work with the team (we all remember how massive they all suddenly looked even for winger Collins ‘Collo’ Injera who had a tough season with the cancellation of his contract).
There were suddenly vested interests in the game some being from the Board and also the interference with the management and contractual issues. This notwithstanding the team put in its best boot forward.

6. Kenya finishes 4th in 6th Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2013) in Russia

The team’s performance in the IRB series meant the team was girded with positive energy going into the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow, Russia. The most outstanding had winger Willy Ambaka being voted into the IRB Series for 2012/13 Dream Team. Pool C pitted Kenya against Samoa, African rivals-Zimbabwe and Philippines. The team topped the pool and advanced to the quarters beating France 24-19. Once again Mike Friday’s charges were to face a familiar foe, England. It was another closely-contested game ending 12-5 for the English.

Willy Ambaka whizzes past a New Zealand player – image courtesy of AFP

With the team seemingly disappointed to have to play in the third-place play-off, they lost 29-5 to the Fijians. What was worse was the how the management were treated with Friday tendering his resignation as the obnoxious now became putrid. His departure marked the end of a fairy tale season and downward trajectory of the team for the next two seasons.

7. Kenya qualifies for Olympic Games in Rio (2016)

Having endured a rough 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, the Kenyan team had one last chance to redeem itself. The change of technical bench from Paul Treu to former international Felix Totty Ochieng had not brought back the spark to the team’s performance. Many even started questioning if the team still deserved to be accorded the ‘core team’ status. It was a trying time indeed with the 2015 Safari Sevens – which usually serves as a warm-up to the team’s IRB series – having the lowest attendance ever in recent times. Tournament sponsor Safaricom had earlier in the year withdrawn its support meaning the 7s circuit was a dour affair leading to the scenario described above in the Safari Sevens.
The 2014/15 season was used to select automatic qualification to the 2016 Olympics. This was given to the top 4 teams at the end of the season. Kenya missed this badly and had to settle for the African Olympic qualifiers.
A few positives though were the return of Richard Omwela to head the Kenya Rugby Union. Choosing to go retro and nostalgic the Board chose Ben Ayimba to steady the ship. The team also had a mix of talent bringing on board tested players as well as grooming the new talent for the 2015/2016 busy season.
In the Final of the qualifiers, Kenya faced arch-rival Zimbabwe. The latter looked like they had secured the place scoring a try in the dying seconds, almost putting the game beyond Kenya’s reach. However a moment of inspiration from speedy Dennis Ombachi saved the day and as they say the rest is ….watch below;

Quick Notes:

  1. Kenya Rugby Union officials have indicated they have worked on the players contracts and they can rest easy as they play in the Series for 2016.
  2. Collins Injera  will be chasing more tries seeking to catch Argentina’s Santiago Gomez’s tally of 230 tries and England’s Ben Gollings 220 tries.Possible? Who knows…

Semper fortis Kenya Shujaa !!!

Kenya 7s – Time for Reflection

The final leg of the 2013/14 IRB Rugby 7s series came to an end this last weekend in England. Kenya having qualified once again after finishing among the top 5 last season was expected to continue with the same pace.
However changes in management after the ‘lack of agreement’ with former 7s coach Mike Friday meant the top brass at KRU sought solace elsewhere. Rumours had circulated that the honchos were after South Africa’s Paul Treu and true to word he did sign dotted line. He also came with a couple of demands of inclusion of hand-picked personnel from his native country, which sponsors and officials alike obliged to.
Due to delays in finalising this agreement, the team started the series dismally and team selection also left a lot to be desired. This would hurt the team in the later stages too. Here are some other sticking points;

  1. Change of pace – The Kenyan team has been known to be a pacy team, taking advantage of the wings to run their plays. Change of tactics saw them adopt a slower game which took time to adopt.
  2. Conditioning – Mike Friday and his assistant though spending less time with the team than envisioned in the 2012/13 season had developed a serious conditioning regime. This saw them add mass and pace to their game. 
  3.  Rookies vs Experience – after making the gamble with new members of the team, Paul Treu had to go back to the more experienced hands. It took time for him to find the right mix of players and combinations.
  4. Pre-season games -while KRU has been trying to get better exposure for the team, a lot more needs to be done for pre-season preparations. Safari 7s is not enough to use for testing the players. A minimum of 3 such tournaments can be explored. Luckily this year is a Commonwealth Games year thus this will suffice for now.
  5. Competitive forces – while a few seasons ago, certain countries were more of pushovers, the level of competition has risen even for non-traditional rugby nations such as USA, Canada and even the Asian reps. Such oversights cost the team valuable points mid-season.
  6. Relegation – this form of dropping poor performers and gifting good ones has worked well to level the playing field. It is going to be interesting 2-3 seasons on when great rugby nations find themselves sharing spoils with more recent additions. 
  7. Investment – while KRU has tried leveraging this sport to potential sponsors, more needs to be done to secure constant churn of players. From the current Chair’s own words his objective is to ensure the players are professionals ‘eating, sleeping and playing rugby’. A more competitive national 7s circuit in the coming years will see the team enjoy constant new talent. It must also work to invest in local coaching expertise to reduce over-reliance on foreign technical hands. The locals will have much less demands and hopefully play for the flag more than anything else.

Till the Commonwealth Games in September 2014, let’s give them a hearty welcome for a brave performance in the last 2 legs hoping they take from there come the 2014/15 series!

Kenya Rugby Ruckus ala Philip Jalang’o-style

“This man, Jalang’o, this man!” were some of the words that inspired this blog-post. This was in a conversation with some of the less knowledgeable rugby fans who I regularly meet on the beat and wanted to offer some of the points to clear the air on which have not been addressed since this commotion blew out in May 2013.

Philip Jalang’ocourtesy of www.nation.co.ke

First things first…as the post goes up, Philip Jalang’o stands suspended from his position as a Director at KRU. However he has gone to court to contest this suspension and is seeking to be reinstated stating that his suspension is null and void.

Now back to the rant. For those who don’t know much about he was once the Chairman of Kenya Harlequins club – one of the top rugby clubs in the country – where though the team performed relatively well in its outings, was losing out in other club management issues. This includes the transfer of ownership of the club-house bar which had been granted to Shareware and also leaving the club’s book in the red with heavy debts. His fellow club officials promptly found him not good enough for the top office and opted not to re-elect him at Quins.

Luckily for him, he managed to wiggle his way into the national board at KRU and has been quite abrasive and at times rash in his decisions. And though the Union has other officials who ought to speak out on the game’s developments at a national and international level, Jalang’o has been quite visible eclipsed only by the Chairman one Mwangi Muthee.

Last year after the end of the 7s circuit, he quickly sacked then coach Mitch Ocholla who had only done a year into his coaching contract. It’s true the performance of the team had deteriorated and there was not much to write about. However the working conditions had not been as favourable as the coach would have wanted, but that’s not for us here to rant about.

Mike Friday who was then relatively unknown by many a Kenyan rugby enthusiast but who had made his name as former England player and England Rugby Union 7s head coach; was announced as the new coach for the Kenyan team. This decision apparently was almost single-handedly decided upon by Philip Jalang’o. Within the same breadth came the sweetener to the deal which was that the shirt sponsorship deal with Gilbert’s would be dropped and English sports apparel makers, Samurai Sports would be the new shirt providers. No clear details were given on how this sourced, whether there was a tendering process and quotations made available. It is also said that Jalang’o had business interest with the local operations of Samurai Sports who made the deal possible.

As if to exonerate his recruitment, Kenya started well in the new season of the International Rugby Board 7s series and amassing points to stay lodge in the top 6 going into the break at the first half of the 2012-13 season. However the team was struck with the blow of playing without its mercurial winger, Collins Injera for the crucial ties in the second-half of the season. Injera had been dropped on the charge ‘of indiscipline and failing to play for his club, Mwamba RFC’. Though the Board at KRU ended up backing this decision up, word has it, Jalang’o had engineered this move.

Kenya 7s players in Samurai Sports attire

The big one came when early last month Philip Jalang’o sent a release to the Press indicating the firing of Mike Friday a day after the Kenyan team had finished fifth overall in the IRB 7s series amassing 99 points, 1 short of its target for the season. This led to a quick rebuttal by Chair, Mwangi Muthee who indicated that Mike Friday was still in charge and would have his performance reviewed on return to Nairobi with the team. This instead led to his ‘firing’ by the KRU Board.It is said, personal differences between the two ( Friday and Jalang’o) led to this acrimonious falling out.

With the next major tournament in the Kenyan rugby calendar being the Bamburi Rugby Super Series (BRSS), Jalang’o was still out to prove who’s the man running the show. This year’s BRSS featured franchises which had new (and rather awkward Swahili names like Nyumbu, Papa ), killing a 10-year heritage of the previous names such as Buffaloes, Cheetahs, Rhinos and Sharks. The selection was also skewed with top clubs making one of the franchises. Nyumbu, a Kenyan franchise made up players from Quins, Nondies and Impala was expected to be the clear favourite and was enjoying the same form going into the semi-finals. However with the ties scheduled for Kampala, Uganda, Jalang’o is reported to have met some of the players and asked them to boycott playing the game. This led to a weakened side showing up at Kyadondo ( pronounced Chadondo) and losing to the Ugandan team, Ruwenzori.

This was along the lines of misinforming participating franchises that the ‘BRSS semi-finals were the preserve of pool winners’ yet the contract clearly spelt out that ‘one semi would be held in Kampala in the event of a Ugandan team reaching the semis with the other being held in Nairobi’.

He has also been rumoured to have interfered with the selection of the national 15-a-side team which is due in South Africa later this month. Add the fact that Kenya Airways will be the shirt sponsors (for a song) instead of negotiating an extension of the deal from the Kenya 7s deal.

Now these are but a few of the allegations that directly relate to his mandate as a rugby club and national official. Other claims include ‘greasing the pens’ of scribes to get favourable coverage for the game and also to ‘kill’ any negative stories that might relate to him or decisions made. It is a foregone conclusion that the election and subsequent re-election of Chairman Mwangi Muthee is not something that some like him have ever been inclined to and have sought to make him look indecisive and incompetent as often as possible.

With the current Board looking to exercise it’s objectives and with the game still looking as lucrative as sporting events could attract, it will remain to be seen if the elements such as Philip Jalang’o who’s motives are not always in the interest of the game, can be banished to sports management Siberia. It would also be imperative for KRU to repair this PR damage and get back into the good books of the sports fans. Sponsors and media companies who are your bread and butter are watching keenly. The fans too are concerned and this will start showing, if these issues aren’t resolved soonest.

As for Philip Jalang’o and his ilk, I shall be waiting for the Court to throw out your case and save the game the disrepute that you have brought to rugby. Save yourself the lawyer costs and give way for more competent personnel to run the game. Rugby has been a gentleman’s game and for heaven’s sake can we keep it as such!

 Disclaimer: This is a guest post from an aggrieved rugby-fan who
needed to vent his disapproval of the ongoing sideshows between Kenya
Rugby Union and one Philip Jalang’o – suspended Director, National Squads &
Elite Performance Committee. Lack of honest coverage and besmirching of
Kenya’s rugby game led to its genesis. We at SportsKenya believe it is the right of everyone to air their views and tell their side of the story. We also offer those mentioned a chance to either comment or send us their own views at sportskenya@gmail.com. For the good of Sports!  
 

Out Goes Virgin Air, In Come Kenya Airways

With rugby slowly trying to upstage athletics as the more lucrative sport in terms of sponsorship, the weekend was another milestone especially for the 7s. Kenya Rugby Football Union (KRFU) penned a deal with Kenya Airways to be their official shirt sponsors to the tune of KSh. 15 million for 2 years.

Logo courtesy of Kenya Airways

Out with the old and in comes the new. After seeing the mileage Virgin Atlantic gained by having the Kenyan boys wear the shirts, it was only natural that once Virgin’s deal was over, a major Kenyan firm would take over. The package includes flying the team across the different cities (where possible). Good thing going thus far !
My concern though is the fact that we had to wait and see what Virgin would do (and gain) then we reacted to that. Why does it take foreign companies to realise that we can do more to sport than we currently are? There is just enough to spend on sport that would go a long way in changing the course for most these and the participants.
I also hope the boys keep their feet on the ground and grace us with some outstanding performances this time gunning for the top 4 finish in the IRB circuit (and hopefully a series win or two!).Ayimba kazi kwako !
Let’s see more proactive corporates come forward. 2010’s bound to be an interesting year for sport !

$$$$ keeps coming…

Now who said we are in a recession? I’m throwing this to you….KSh. 10 million to sponsor Kenyan Golf (ouch !…that’s + KSh.12 million booty!)….add another Ksh. 4 million for a shirt sponsorship into the mix !
Kenyan corporates have finally realised they can throw in a few shillings into sport. That’s commendable and SportsKenya takes a bow to all those putting in a good 2 cents worth their while.
I do hope they can also make good the longer term commitments in some of these endeavours. I was looking at some sports news from back in the day 1999 when Kenyan rugby 7s was emerging into a mainstream sport. Added to the fact that it’s a thrill to watch, it was only time before we rose to the occasion. 2009 and the boys come back from the Rugby Sevens World Cup having proved any doubting Thomases of their worth.
Mirror that to the other disciplines ( of course you must have the right officials managing, multitudes of fans, and an exciting possibility for TV).
…in the meantime….we’re watching the stingy types….wherefore art thou Kenyan corporates ?
UPDATE:
Kenya Airways invests KSh. 12 million to the East African Classic Safari Rally. Oh I love the way Kenya companies are outdoing each other to sponsor sports events ! It can better can’t it ? I’m counting…..