Kenya Rugby has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years. The potential to be world beaters was never in doubt, it is just that the team seemed to keep choking at crucial times. Just when our expectations were highest did we fail to achieve. In the last five years or so, we seemed capable of beating everyone except the revered top three of Sevens rugby; New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.
Kenya Rugby has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years. The potential to be world beaters was never in doubt, it is just that the team seemed to keep choking at crucial times.
Just when our expectations were highest did we fail to achieve. In the last five years or so, we seemed capable of beating everyone except the revered top three of Sevens rugby; New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.
Several factors may have played one role or the other in this but last year there appeared to have been a change of fortune for the lads. The last twelve months have seen us now beat everyone on the list, some even more than once, and to qualify for a cup final that just seemed a bridge too far in previous years.
Are we now capable of making the next step and becoming serious contenders for the overall Sevens title? All factors being constant I believe we can. However, one major factor will keep dogging us in the foreseeable future and that is our amateur status!
I believe we have played our best but being amateur will remain our achilles heel. To make the next step we must have fully professional rugby players as the other top nations do.
The International Rugby Board Sevens World Series is quite a challenging circuit. Suffice to say to make a serious challenge for the overall crown, you must show a lot of consistency. Consistency in selection, consistency in play and consistency in form. This can only be achieved if you have the same or nearly the same set of players for every leg.
In the absence of this, you must have another set of players that are ready to step up to the challenge and meet the demands of the Series. That, unfortunately, is where we will get stuck. Each round of the circuit involves a trip outside the country for up to two weeks at a time.
With four rounds in the year, that involves at least eight weeks out of the country, away from school or work. Not many companies or individuals can afford that amount of time away and hence your selection issues start - unavailability due to school or work commitments.
The other problem belying our amateur status leads to over reliability on your core players. By playing in the main cup competition throughout, this means we must field our best players all the time. This leaves us little room to grow or strengthen our bench power. Many a player makes these trips to only get a minute or two of game time on the field!
What then do I feel needs to be done? I think a more holistic approach to the game would suffice. Everyone knows it but we're shy of doing it. We need more players contracted either directly by the union, or by clubs as well. This frees players to concentrate on their rugby and all else is after.
Next, by dividing our rugby into Sevens and fifteens, we immediately created a problem, both in terms of funding and marketing of the sides as saleable entities. What we are now creating is a Kenya Sevens A side and trying to market it separately.
The A team is supposed to take part in other satellite tournaments and help to build or groom other players, ready to step up and do the job. But so long as we keep separating and selling them separately, we will continue to be disconnected. We need to be able to convince sponsors or potential funders that the two are intertwined and cannot be separated, and that the activities of this A side are just as important to the main team.
My prediction for Wellington this coming weekend? I think the side is very well prepared and taking part in the Heineken Hottest 7’s in Darwin was a good build up. The dedicated time away from home/school/work has also ensured that they have spent more time training and getting conditioned. Barring over-strain and injuries, I believe we will be able to seriously challenge for this title and I give us an appearance in the final. That's my take.