Ukipanda matomoko, utavuna matomoko…
This is Tuesday evening, 23rd May 2023, a few minutes past 7 PM, it is around 48 hours since the Kenya national sevens team, Shujaa, lost their core status at the World sevens series following a heart-shattering 12-7 loss to Canada in a relegation play-off final, at the London Sevens.
That result saw Kenya’s 19-year run as a core side at the World Series come to a disappointing end, in what still seems like a bad dream.
That this ending was imminent was clear for most, for some time now, yet when it hit at around 5 PM on that Sunday, it hit like a tonne of bricks. So what happened to the side that once brought us all so much joy not so long ago? That took us to the promised land?
The reasons behind our fall from grace are endless, they can and will be debated and discussed in many forums for a while to come, I chose not to go down that route, but to summarise my thinking, “Ukipanda matomoko, utavuna matomoko…” Ndio hii matomoko yetu finally imeiva.
While the rest of the World has steadily invested in and grown their sevens programs, we have basically been sitting ducks, falling back to our favourite plan as a country, ‘Vibes and inshallah…’
So what next for Shujaa and how do we get back to those glory days?
First up, a thorough post-mortem of our sevens program, going as far back as Mike Friday’s time, what did we do right then? Despite our meagre resources we still managed to go toe to toe with the world’s best. Is the world still playing the same brand of Sevens rugby? Where did we miss the train? Most importantly, how do we bridge that gap, what do we need to do and how long will it take?
I saw communication from the Union that they target regaining core status within a season, which is a rather ambitious goal, achievable, but very ambitious.
Realistically, I think it will take us between three and five years of hard work to get back into the World Series. Work that will need a substantial amount of funding.
We’ll need a lot of goodwill from around the world, first in terms of opportunities to play against top-flight opposition. Just to give you a rough picture of our now new status, the Challenger series (that is where we’ll be playing) is not even listed on the World sevens series website
To find any info on the challenger series, you need to dig through the main world rugby website, they don’t even seem to have a calendar, ni ka wana tumiwagwa email wanaulizwa ‘Nani ako on hii weekend, tuna opportunity ya torna?’ And they show up hehehe…
On a serious note though, invitation slots to tournaments on the world series will be rare. World Rugby is set to also reduce the number of legs on the series calendar (one of the tournaments set to face the axe will likely be Dubai or Capetown), to allow them play the men’s and women’s events in a 12-team format concurrently, on TV. I struggle to see how they will invite teams outside the core sides, we wait and see.
Before we even get these opportunities to play, we need to start defining/redefining our style of play, we simply can’t keep playing the way we have. We need to start playing modern-day sevens rugby, to do this we have to first build our skill set.
Part of the reason that we seem to always fall back to ‘bang bang’ rugby is that this is what we are comfortable with, thus under pressure, we fold to our basic skill…strength.
While we do have a plethora of highly skilled players especially those coming up through the ranks, products of age-grade rugby, who are now getting to 26 or so years of age, they need proper preparations to compete and get back to the world series, through those opportunities I mentioned earlier.
Finally, a proper plan of how we manage, handle and run this team, going forward, so that we don’t get back here. I’d start with defining a player profile, to define the bare minimums for a player to join the Shujaa system, these should then be reviewed regularly to ensure we keep up with global trends.
We then build as big a pool of these players as possible, exposing them to top-level opposition to get them ready for the world series. With this kind of setup, we would now have a proper foundation to not only get back but stay and compete at the World Series.
Yes, we might sneak back to the series in one year, but then I don’t think we would have enough to stay there and we’d find ourselves once again in the dog fight. It is also a possibility that we get back up and start slowly implementing the necessary changes to the setup, something tells me we would be comfortable, then forget the work needed, taking us back to that relegation hamster wheel.
Our immediate concern right now though should be how we get back on the saddle and qualify for the 2024 Olympics, through one of two routes, either through the Africa Rugby sevens to be played in September in Zimbabwe, or through the repechage to be staged before June 2024.
Worth noting is that, the second and third-ranked teams from the Africa sevens qualify for the Repechage tournament.
With only one guaranteed tournament ahead of the qualifiers, the New York City Sevens in mid-July, I don’t think we should change much in the setup right now, let the season run its cause, also give the boys an opportunity to redeem themselves and build on that showing in London.
Lastly, a big thank you to all that have sacrificed more than we could ever know, for more than two decades, to represent and bring us so much pride going toe to toe with the world’s best, against all odds. To this current class who have had to endure some very tough times and the lowest of lows and still show up and fight to the very last minute, words will do no justice to the gratitude that myself and many others have for you, Asante wazito!
Tukifunga, I know we handle disappointment differently, but it is really sickening to see cowards pretending to be rugby fans, hiding behind keyboards throwing vitriol in the name of ‘banter.’ Shetani awalambe uso kila asubuhi…
KWISHA… Nimeruka Nje!!!