Kenya’s Rugby Sevens team is setting its sights high in 2015-16, targeting not only a top-eight finish in the HSBC Sevens Series but aiming for a place at the Olympics in Rio too.
It has been an up and down year for the Kenya Sevens team, who made a slow start in the 2014-15 season and who ended it with victory over Argentina in the Bowl Final at Twickenham, with star man Collins Injera scoring the 200th try of his career earlier in the day.
Despite that result and the celebrations in London however, the Kenyans finished the campaign in 13th place in the table; and that’s a disappointment because Kenya – who reached four semi-finals and a final in season 2012-13 – finished fifth two years ago, above huge rugby-playing nations such as England, Australia, Wales and France.
The other highlights of 2014-15 were reaching the quarter-finals in New Zealand, where they eventually fell to South Africa, and then heading straight to Las Vegas to lift the Bowl, beating Argentina in the final. Star man overall was Billy Odhiambo, who amassed 100 points during the Series, but the overall feeling at the end of the campaign was one of ‘could do better’.
Now the coaching team feel that the time has come to recreate the glory days and get back to the winning rugby that has made his warriors so popular back home in Kenya.
It is clear that Kenya have one eye on the future with talk of a new group of young players ready to break through next season, encouraged to play an exciting style of rugby which will please the fans.Whatever happens it is a big year for the team, with the Olympic qualifiers to think about now that Rugby Sevens is due to be included in the Games in Rio as well as the regular IRB Sevens season. The Sevens Series is very competitive – no team can rest on its laurels no matter how well it has performed during the previous campaign. The belief inside the Kenyan team is that next season can be a good one, with every player working hard to make sure he improves as quickly as possible. Led by experienced captain Andrew Amonde, the squad currently includes legends such as Humphrey Kayange and his brother Injera, who have been the backbone of the team for so long. But there are also younger players hoping to break through and that’s what makes them so exciting. Rugby experts are pretty unanimous in their opinion that the Kenyan team has huge potential and is better than the results achieved last year; so the question is whether new young players and a lot of hard work can help achieve that potential in 2015-16. Reaching quarter-finals and semi-finals regularly is the first step, Olympic qualification the big goal. On top form, this Kenyan team is still capable of beating anyone.
The captain’s view: Andrew Amonde
This year has been about trying to build a team, and you will see it come good next year. Everyone will be back in the training camp determined to train harder than ever and to reach our full potential. We owe it to our fans who are amazing and follow us all over the world.
“The Sevens Series is getting bigger all the time. We are playing now in front of big, big crowds and that’s a real pleasure.
“The Olympics are a major focus for us and for Kenya as a country too. It’s a massive thing for the players – a chance to take part in Rio. We want to be there. We hope that 2016 will be a great year for rugby in Kenya because I can tell you the people in our country love rugby.”
The legend’s view: Humphrey Kayange
“It was pleasing to end the season by winning the Bowl at Twickenham in front of so many fans and to see Collins get to 200 tries. We are all massively proud of the work he has done and contributed to the team. Now we want to push on and do even more next year.”
The fans’s view: John Omondi (London)
“I love watching Kenya play sevens. I travelled up to Glasgow this year and to Twickenham as well. It hasn’t been their best year – I think the team needs some new young players to help it improve and to give new blood to the team. But things are going in the right direction and I hope we can turn things around with some new talent in the side next year . It would be very special for Kenya if we could reach the Olympics. We have the best fans in the world and they deserve to be there too!” John travels regularly on Kenya Airways adding: “I always use Kenya Airways to travel home if I can; it’s my favourite.”
Sevens Player of the Year
Two South African stars are in contention to be named 2015 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year. Werner Kok and Seabelo Senatla are both on a three-man shortlist for the award which also includes Fiji’s Semi Kunatini. The trio were voted by the management teams of the 15 core sides who compete at all nine rounds of the World Series.
The winner will be announced at the World Rugby Awards dinner on Sunday 1 November in London following the Rugby World Cup 2015 final.
Kok, leading tackler in the series, and Senatla, who was leading try scorer with 47 tries, helped South Africa to tournament victories in Dubai and Port Elizabeth, and to second place behind Fiji.
Kunatini scored 40 tries as Fiji lifted the title, earning himself a contract at French giants Toulouse in the process.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “This has been the most exciting and closely-fought series to date as we build momentum towards rugby sevens’ Olympic Games debut at Rio 2016…. At the heart of the success story are our players and this year’s nominees have proven once again that we have some exceptionally talented players on the series with each of them fully deserving of a place on the shortlist.”
Season 2015-16 – a look ahead at what’s in store…
It’s all change in season 2015-16 as the new-look World Series launches with ten stops and five new venues.
There is no doubt that Rugby Sevens is on the up – you only have to look at the world record sell-out crowd of 82,000 for this year’s Twickenham leg to know that.
Now the magic is being taken to even more venues. Paris, Vancouver, Sydney, Cape Town and Singapore (an old favourite returning to the fold) join the party in 2015-16 for what looks like being a bumper season ending with the added glamour of the Olympics in Rio.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “With excitement increasing ahead of Rio 2016, the World Rugby Sevens Series is going from strength to strength, proving a hit with fans, broadcasters and sponsors around the globe with its winning blend of compelling and competitive action, global destinations and festival atmosphere.
“The latest city to join us is Paris, one of the world’s major tourism destinations which has sport at its heart. I have no doubt that the Paris Sevens will inspire new audiences and participants, underscore Paris’ credentials as a major event host and contribute to the continued strong growth of the game around the world.”
With South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand and England securing Olympic qualification via the HSBC Sevens World Series, the rest will battle it out in regional qualification events over the year ahead, adding to the feeling of anticipation for the forthcoming campaign.
2015 Rugby World Cup
South Africa and Namibia will lead Africa’s challenge at the World Cup in what is predicted to be the biggest and most-watched finals in the sport’s history
Tickets for most matches at the tournament in England have long sold out, with places at the Final at Twickenham on 31 October now selling for thousands of pounds on the black market.
South Africa, champions in 1995 and 2007 and currently ranked second in the world, will be favourites to make it through their opening group, which features Samoa, Japan, Scotland and the USA. But for Namibia, ranked 22nd, it is going to be tough as they take on holders New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Georgia aiming to avoid finishing bottom of their pool for the very first time.
The All Blacks of New Zealand remain strong favourites to lift the trophy; but with England having home advantage and South Africa hitting top form they could face strong competition.
England’s Johnny Wilkinson, who famously scored a last-minute drop-goal to win in 2003, said: “It’s amazing how much that little trophy means and how much goes into winning it. And this is shaping up to be a fascinating World Cup.”
Pool A Australia, England, Wales, Fiji, Uruguay
Pool B South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Japan, United States
Pool C New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia
Pool D France, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Romania
Venues (by capacity)
• London & South East
Olympic Stadium 54,000
Community Stadium, Brighton 30,750
Millennium Stadium 74,500
City of Manchester Stadium 56,000
Elland Road, Leeds 37,900
Villa Park 42,788
City of Leicester Stadium 32,262
Stadium MK, MIlton Keynes 30,500
• North East
St James’ Park, Newcastle 52,387
• South West
Sandy Park, Exeter 12,500
Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester 16,500
The Big Dates
• September 18: Opening ceremony, England v Fiji, Twickenham
• October 17-18: Quarter-finals (Twickenham and Millennium Stadium)
• October 24-25: Semi-finals Twickenham
• October 30: Bronze final Olympic Stadium
• October 31: Final Twickenham