It is almost a week after the national U20 side (Chipu) put up a spirited campaign at the 2023 Barthes trophy, before falling to the Zimbabwe Junior Sables 28-7 in the final played at the Nyayo National Stadium, so what next?
Well, the straightforward answer to this question would be, the Junior World Rugby Trophy, to be hosted in Nairobi between the 15th and 30th of July 2023. Chipu alongside Zimbabwe, will be the African representatives in this tier 2 global competition which will see Scotland, Samoa, Uruguay, Spain, Hong Kong, and either Canada or USA, do battle for promotion to the tier one World Rugby U20 Championship, next year.
So what do Chipu need to do to improve on their Barthes Cup showing in what will be a more competitive tournament for the side?
This will be the second time that Kenya will be hosting the JWRT, in the first instance in 2009, the then U-20 class claimed two wins, a 67-0 result against the Cayman Islands and a famous 33-32 result against USA, on their way to finishing fourth overall. I am pretty sure that the 2023 class will be looking to go one better. So what do they need to do?
First up, is that the team has to remain in camp, part of the reason we sometimes looked disjointed at the Barthes trophy is that these boys had ‘make shift’ preparations in the lead-up to the tournament. We simply can’t afford a similar situation at JWRT level. Everything boils down to this, in fact, this post should end here.
There is no doubt that we have a great pool of talent in this Chipu side, but the style of play we opted to adopt, did us little favours. In Zephenes Obwanga, Eddy Wambugu, and Patrick Wainaina we have exciting half-backs who can spark match-winning plays at will, we need to make better use of their abilities. At the Barthes trophy, we rarely brought our backs into play, rather opting to create mismatches using our forwards.
At JWRT, we’ll definitely come up against bigger units, thus we must look at how we can run around them rather than through them. We had great joy at our setpieces during the Barthes campaign, we’ll need similar fortunes at JWRT for us to have an opportunity to play the expansive brand of rugby that would suit us at that level.
Our goal-kicking was another pain point during the Barthes week, we left a lot of points on the kicking tee, points that will be very valuable come July. This is one of the areas that we can quickly improve on, while at camp.
Looking beyond this JWRT, the Chipu program will be vital in our Rugby world cup qualification bid, and if we are serious about making it to the 2027 edition, this group will be our cornerstone. We have made the first step in the right direction by having head coach Curtis Olago in the Simbas technical bench, ensuring better synergy between the two sides, especially around defining a style of play at the early stages and progression.
In the next phase, this style of play and positional expectations from the Simbas should then trickle down further to the schools. Aligning our player recruitment and development early on. We should borrow a leaf from the Junior Sables who had nine returning players this year from the 2022 Barthes winning side, that is not by luck, it is preparation. All things held constant this Zim side will be our biggest challenger to that 2027 dream.
In so many words, we have a great opportunity to transform our rugby fortunes through this Chipu side, let us not waste it. But first, they need to remain in camp…
KWISHA… Nimeruka Nje!!!