A tough choice of three competitions for rugby sevens coaches

By the punter
Mar 27, 2021
  • Andrew Amonde powers past Fiji captain Jerry Tuwai at the USA Sevens. (Photo by David Kiania)

  • Collins Injera is tackled by two Fijian players but frees Andrew Amonde fto score the winning try against Fiji at the USA Sevens. (Photo by David Kiania)

  • William Ambaka celebrates with Dan Sikuta (2) and Andrew Amonde after beating Fiji at death during the USA Sevens. (Photo by David Kiania)

Three important competitions in a season is causing frequent headaches to seven-a-side rugby team coaches.

They must delicately balance their playing units to effectively compete at the World Rugby Sevens World Series, Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The first salvo was fired by South Africa who have opted to send two different squads to Hong Kong Sevens (April 6-8) and the Commonwealth Games (April 13-15 in Gold Coast, Australia).

Craig Laidlaw has left nothing to chance and named a strong squad in the New Zealand team which will battle it out with Canada, Kenya and Zambia in Pool C in Gold Coast.

In an interview with The New Zealand Herald, Laidlaw acknowledged the CWG was different for rugby players. “What isn’t different is when we put our boots on to train or when we walk into the stadium to play, that is the same and business as usual.”

Balancing the squads for tournaments in Hong Kong, Gold Coast, Singapore, London, Paris and San Francisco presents a formidable challenge especially for the core teams of the WRSWS who will be represented by 10 teams at the Commonwealth Games.

The various technical teams are wary of fatigue, recovery and injuries before the end of the season. None of the competitions are easy as the gap between the top and second tier teams is very small.

There is a slight difference in the format of the competitions too with Hong Kong being played over three days while in Gold Coast, the top teams in the four pools proceed straight to the semi-finals.

Barely enough time

Ben Ryan, who steered Fiji to a Gold Medal in Sao Paulo when rugby was reintroduced to the Olympic Games also noted there is barely enough time between Hong Kong Sevens and the Commonwealth Games in a post on his Facebook page.

He argued it was possible to take the same squad to both tournaments before Singapore Sevens on April 28 to 29. It is important to prioritize which then throws another spanner in the works about the pecking order of the Commonwealth Games.

“It’s a great challenge to take both tournaments on with your best squads and then see where you are for Singapore leg of the series,” he admits. This is the headache for other coaches as well.

Kenya is not exempt. SNA interviewed former coaches and players of the seven-a-side team asking then how they would approach the scenario considering the player resource and the importance of the competitions.

Would you use your wide base to put strong teams in the three competitions without giving priority to one with a consideration of the Commonwealth Games format, a possible automatic qualification at the RWC 7’s or chasing a top five finish in the Series?

Benjamin Ayimba, the immediate past coach of the Kenya Sevens team was clear. “I would split the seniors and juniors to make equal strength teams for Hong Kong and Commonwealth Games after which the teams will be merged for Singapore Sevens, finish with the strongest team in Europe and have the same team for the Rugby World Cup Sevens.”

He added: “You want to finish in a decent position in Hong Kong to get at least 10 points that you have set as a minimum target, go to the semis or final in the Commonwealth Games and finish with a win in Singapore and expose young talents in Europe before having a shot at the World Cup.”

Same script

Paul Murunga, who was Ayimba’s assistant read from the same script. “As a coach, you must have planned. Kenya has talent and depth,” he noted.

This realization came from handling the national under-19 team in 2014 during the Africa Youth Games in Botswana, Youth Olympics in China and the then CAR championship in Namibia.

“I had to train a big number of players. We reached the final in Botswana and Namibia and semi-finals in China. Therefore, the key is planning and dedication. We should get to the play-off in all competitions and win some.”

Therefore, Murunga would opt for a strong team in all the competitions backed by a wide base. “But, the priority would be a steady build up to the World Cup,” he admitted.

John Onyango-Mbai a former player and team manager identified the CWG and RWC 7’s as major events which should be given prominence.

“I would probably use the Series as a build up to CWG and RWC and put an emphasis on better recovery protocols. Overall, CWG can be used as an incentive to get better for the remaining tournaments in the Series. Each player usually wants to appear at the CWG and RWC 7’s.”

Mitch Ocholla who briefly handled the outfit ranks WRSWS first followed by RWC 7’s and then CWG.

“The Series is all about consistency and in my opinion, the RWC 7’s is more prestigious than the CWG. I would rely on set season targets by gunning for the top five in the Series, podium finish at the CWG then concentrate of RWC 7’s preparations and take what is for grabs. It’s a gruelling season and good depth is required.”

Podium finish

Charles Cardovillis, a former player and coach would aim at a podium finish at the CWG and the RWC 7’s.

“Playing time among the players will be key. This has to be carefully balanced so that players are not fatigued.” For a podium finish, Cardovillis aims at having players who are at their peak at the CWG and the RWC 7’s.

“There’s also a danger of wanting to rest the players but that would work against Kenya as our players tend to get better after a few tournaments. The Series may have to take a back seat but used to prepare for the CWG and RWC 7’s.”

With planning, Kenya could win a medal at the CWG and then gun for a respectable placing in the Series.

The teams for the Hong Kong Sevens and CWG will be named on Wednesday.