Murunga: Kenya shall not be relegated.

By eric odanga
Mar 03, 2021
  • Kenya needed to beat Japan to ease off the relegation worries. (Courtesy World Rugby)

Paul Murunga, the Kenya Sevens coach is confident that the team will not be relegated.

Talking to Sports News Arena at the Sam Boyd Stadium on the second day of the USA Sevens, Murunga Murunga admitted the team has struggled despite being thrown on the deeper end of the pool to learn to swim with the sharks.

The former Kenya backrow explained the circumstances which led to fast tracking some of the players into the team. “These players were thrown to the deeper end of the pool by default after the unavailability of some of the senior players,” he stated.

The plan was to give the young players a chance to develop before being given more game time. “But as you know, that did not happen and they had to learn to swim. We were not ready.”

If the script was followed, eight or six of the experienced players would have nurtured the younger players until they were ready for the big stage.

This has been a struggle and Kenya has endured losing matches they could have easily won. At the moment, the aim is to finish in a respectable position although many Kenyans want otherwise.

“We have struggled. Many Kenyans would want us relegated because of problems at the KRU. But, the management and the players have vowed to fly our flag high and just play with what we have,” he explained.

The coach also shed light on the fate of the ‘older’ players. ""I am talking to the senior players. We talked after Cape Town but as a coach, I do not have money to pay for what they are demanding."

"At some point, I understand because most of these players have been in the set up for up to seven years and have financial obligations. But if we do not have money to pay them and they decide to generate an income through other means, I cannot stop them. I respect that. If you don’t have money it’s hard to maintain them.'

It has been a struggle

Murunga and his assistant Kevin Wambua agreed that it has been a struggle because what the team needed was not only money for players but for other things as well such as equipment.

"It would be unfair to tell the present squad they were no longer needed if the Senior players are available," he observed. But, admitted there will be much depth.

Speaking on the incident in France which sparked the row between players and KRU, Murunda admitted it was wrong for the players to block the sponsor's logo. "It was not good. The issue could have been handled differently."

Murunga then shifted gears and commented about the team's performance in the opening four matches by analyzing each match.

"The first match against the USA was very good. We played against one of the top teams, the defending champions on home soil. We made three mistakes which cost us a game we really wanted to win."

Kenya's goal this season has been to win their opening match. 

"The second game against France was a tough one. The boys put up a good effort but lost. After the loss we went back to the drawing board. Analyzed how we played against the two teams, re-set and decided to approach the third game like we played against the USA."

It was the resolve of the players to win against Argentina which turned the momentum. "They resolved to win and the momentum gained was good although we did not qualify for the cup quarters"

Against Japan, it was a repeat of our meeting in Dubai. "It was crucial we win because of getting more points. We are only one point above them. Any team would like to avoid relegation and so with this in mind, the players fired on all cylinders."

The realization that Kenya could win against some of the top teams have the players a new fighting spirit. Murunga predicted that if they playes with a similar resolve, they could have a good result against Spain in the Challenge Trophy semi-final.

Biggest concerns

With a young team, Murunga identified some of the key areas which he would focus on. One of the biggest concerns for the technical bench is the ability to make the right decisions by the players.

This is a work in progress and comes with playing many matches and against teams which have different structures and formats.

 Against the USA, Kenya were not overawed and showed their physicality. And, even against Argentina which is one of the most physical sides in the Series, Kenya were still able to hold their ground, "which means we are up to the task."

"But, it comes to the crucial things where one player would make a wrong decision such as kicking like we did against France where two balls went dead. That is inexperience. If we are able to stick to our structure and play for each other."

At the moment, Murunga and Wambua are concentrating on getting the best out of the squad. "I am playing with what I have which is not the best. I have my wish team but at the moment, we have to operate with what I have."

"These are the players who have been training and I can only pick from what I have. If the senior players decide to play for the country and not for the money, considering the situation which we are, we could still go far," he stated.

Olympics qualifier

Already, the team is maturing and Murunga is thinking of qualifying for the Olympics. "The squad I have are slowly maturing and they could represent Kenya at the Olympics. They are capable of playing for the whole season."

"The absence of the senior players has given younger players a chance to fight for a position in the team. Therefore we have a much bigger depth. If the senior players agree to come back, we will welcome them and there will be a lot of competition for the places."

Among some of the players who have been impressive are Vincent Onyala, a utility player who has scored 14 tries. Also, Daniel Taabu and Johnstone Olindi and are staking their claim alongside Cyprian Kuto, Jacob Ojee, Charles Omondi and Brian Wandera.

"This crop of players could play for the next six years. It is a good side. Am not worried about relegation. There is great potential. The team played well in Sydney and here too."

For the remaining tournaments, Murunga and his charges eye a main cup quarter final in at least two. "But the main thing will be coming back and training for the Olympic qualifiers," he concluded.