NAIROBI, November 8 – “We are going there to win the World Cup,” was national sevens coach Benjamin Ayimba’s response when asked after his team’s arrival from Tunisia how he expects his team to perform in next year’s showpiece in Dubai.
The former national captain has forged a reputation for brash comments regarding his team but one cannot fault Ayimba for stating his ambition after the events of last week in Tunisia which was the setting of the Africa Zone Rugby Sevens World Cup qualifiers.
Kenya’s status as the tourney’s top seeds and the marquee sevens nation on the continent outside South Africa was vindicated in spectacular fashion as Humphrey Khayange and company put daylight between themselves and the rest of the participating nations.
Khayange said that his side’s performance in Tunis was the perfect warm up for the upcoming Dubai and George legs of the International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens series that commences later this month.
“This sets us up well for the IRB series and we are looking forward especially to the Dubai leg because it will be used to determine the seeds for the World Cup,” said Khayange after his side’s conquest of Carthage.
Like the Romans during the Third Punic War, Kenya set the ancient Mediterranean city of Tunis on fire with their high speed, physical and clinical brand of sevens that was too much for their Pool A opponents to deal with in the oppressive North African heat.
Kenya turned up the temperature several notches on the first day when they slaughtered Tunisia II 45-0, secured a psychological boost with a 31-12 win over Namibia and an emphatic 31-0 victory over arch rivals Uganda that put Ayimba’s side on the home stretch for their third World Cup.
The top seeds began day two on second gear for with a 26-19 victory over lowly Senegal but then switched to cruise control in the semis overwhelming the hosts Tunisia 22-12 and brought down the curtains on a glorious weekend for Kenyan rugby beating fellow world cup finalists Zimbabwe 26-14.
“The final against Zimbabwe was something different. They played really well but we took them on, stepped up our game and proved our worth,” stated Khayange indicating the team’s big match temperament which they have worked on during several campaigns on the IRB series will be imperative if his coach’s target of winning the title is to be achieved.
Kenya’s win in Tunisia came on the back of winning the Tusker Safari Sevens in June, a significant milestone in the sense that Kenya has won two high pressure tournaments in a row and sets them up nicely for the battles that lie ahead albeit against much superior opposition.
But one significant advantage that Kenya will have against their more illustrious opponents is that they will be battle hardened and have a squad that has played together for a while now.
The manner in which the team adapted to the constant changes in the draw after the withdrawal of some teams speaks volumes of their maturity which Ayimba told Capital Sport before the team’s departure to Tunisia was one of the main factors in his selection.
Next year’s World Cup will be Kenya’s third following appearances in Mar de Plata, Argentina in 2001 and Hong Kong in 2005.
Unlike those previous tournaments, the national side which finished seventh in the 2007/2008 IRB Sevens series are now dark horses to win the title which is currently being held by Fiji
Three consecutive victories against the red rose army that is England, as well as triumphs over superpowers like Australia, France and Wales coupled with narrow losses to New Zealand and the defending World champions has boosted Kenya’s chances of bringing the title home and created an arms race in the abbreviated version of the game judging by the rise of Portugal and Argentina.
Winning the World Cup maybe a priority for Ayimba but he is not letting that get in the way of continuing their rise up the sevens charts.
“We’ll continue targeting six points which essentially means being runners up in the plate competition adding up to 48 points at the end of the season,” said Ayimba.
Forty eight points next season will be ten more what Kenya achieved in 2007/2008, and perhaps will be seen by some as modest especially with the achievements of last season.
The team will be fired up when they reassemble next week in preparation for the IRB series.
For them the World Cup is an all important distraction and a stage to prove to the rest of the rugby sphere that they are no longer just a rising force but a unit capable of upsetting the current sevens order.