Shake up in the 7s team overdue

By eric odanga
Mar 20, 2020
  • A shake up of the 7s team is overdue after a lukewarm start to the World Rugby Sevens World Series. (Photo by World Rugby)

The lure of playing at the Olympics could be contributing to Kenya’s lukewarm performance at this year’s World Rugby Sevens World Series.

Before the two legs in North America, the Kenya technical bench opted for experienced and tested players at the expense of those who have fought their way into the squad.

Most of the returnees sat out last season as Kenya struggled to avoid relegation from the Series.

Sports News Arena spoke to one of the KRU directors who was not authorized to officially comment on the performance of the team but confirmed that selection of players was key.

“We just have to bite the bullet and manage the team in a better way. The time has come to let go of some of the players. Names are not going to win us any matches. We did not have names when Kenya struggled last season to survive relegation and it is something we have built on,” he said.

The Director agreed that the lure of playing at the Olympics has contributed to the inconsistency and hinted at a shake up. It will be interesting to see what changes would be made for the remaining legs.

“An evaluation will be made after we receive a report after the two legs in the USA and Canada,” the Director assured.

Pecking order

As the Series entered the home straight, a definite pecking order has emerged with the top 10 teams maintaining a firm grip.

Canada, hosts of the last leg in Vancouver has collected 57 points and are eighth with Argentina and Ireland completing the top 10. The chasing packs of Scotland and Kenya have 37 and 35 points respectively. Samoa and Spain each have 33 points with Wales in the danger zone.

Before heading to LA, Kenya made five changes from the squad that travelled to New Zealand and Sydney. Jacob Ojee, Oscar Dennis, Daniel Sikuta, Oscar Ouma and Samuel Oliech all got the nod from Paul Feeney.

The momentum which was built in the opening four legs took a knock as Kenya huffed and puffed in LA. A 31-5 result against the eventual champions South Africa set the pace for a bumpy ride over the next two days at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles.

There was a glimpse of hope as Kenya bounced back in their characteristic style to convincingly beat a resurgent Ireland 29-12 with Vincent Onyala scoring three tries. Oscar Dennis and Collins Injera added one each with Injera slotting two conversions.

But, what was expected to be a formality match against Canada in the last Pool B match went all wrong. Kenya was static! Canada had done their homework and denied their opponents any running ball.

A 0-24 loss saw Kenya finish at the bottom of the pack and set a date with Samoa in the lower eight competition.

Sprinkle of unfitness

Even at this level, Kenya has been struggling and it was not a surprise when Samoa won 28-19. Although Kenya bounced back to convincingly beat Wales 29-5, the lack of intensity and a sprinkle of unfitness saw them lose to Scotland in extra time.

Hundreds of fans were disappointed. What could have gone wrong? A few things popped up with some former players identifying the lack of intensity and frequent changes in the squad as one of the main problems.

Technically, Kenya has struggled with retaining possession at kick offs or re-starts, an area which has been their strong point when Mike Friday was at the helm.

Against Scotland, Kenya lost because they were unable to convert tries. The kickers appeared too casual.

Also, the loss of Injera after the match against Ireland left the team without a playmaker. Injera who sustained a sprain in the right ankle always attracted the attention of the opposite team whenever he had possession thereby creating room for others to run into space.

The physicality at the breakdowns has fizzled out and more often, Kenya loses out when they adopt a physical approach.

At the back of all these, an Olympic dream by most of the players could be a negative.

There was a glimpse of hope in Vancouver where Kenya were beaten 29-0 by New Zealand in their opening match and narrowly lost 12-14 to Ireland.

A win against Spain could have given them a glimpse of a top eight finish but lost 14-17 to drop to the now familiar bottom eight. A 28-0 win over Wales set the mood for the second day before falling 7-12 to Scotland.

Casual approach

Again, a casual approach as opposed to the expansive running by Kenya was missing. The physicality at the break downs worked against the East Africans.

Was it fatigue or the players just did enough? The next two legs in Hong Kong and Singapore will be played in October and there is nearly three months before the next two tournaments in London and Paris.

There is no firm word on the Olympics with the organizers insisting the show will go on amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

Time is ripe for a complete shake up of the team and the technical bench. Lack of consistency has been a song for a few seasons now.

The KRU, regardless of the ‘Old Boys’ connection should crack the whip to address the downward trend. The Olympics format will be brutal and only the best should represent Kenya.