NAIROBI, Kenya, December 13 – Hot and cold. Inconsistent.,
These are but some of the expressions that can be used to describe the disparity of Kenya’s performance in the first two legs of the 2008/2009 International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens series in which they collected six points.
In Dubai where Kenya reached the plate final, Benjamin Ayimba’s side were a team on the up with dominant performances against Scotland and defending series champions New Zealand providing the highlights of an impressive run the side was enjoying after qualifying for the Rugby Sevens World Cup and winning the Safari Sevens.
The lush South African city of George however proved once again to be a slippery ground for Kenya compounded by a tricky pool which included surprise package Portugal, an out of sorts Samoa and unpredictable Wales.
On the first day of the tournament, Kenya were a pale shadow of the side that captivated the Emirates a week earlier.
Elementary mistakes in attack and defence cost them dearly against the Portuguese and the physical Samoans and was almost their undoing against Wales.
Unlike in Dubai, another deficiency within Kenya’s ranks was their lack of ability to impose themselves early in all their matches and having to play catch up most of the time.
“We just lacked concentration at key moments,” said Ayimba who has just entered his third season of coaching Kenya.
“We performed dismally in George and it’s not acceptable from our side, we know that,” he added, an indicator of how much he values the goals he had set for his team this season, the most important being winning the World Cup.
The performance in the Middle East had buoyed the hopes of Kenyan fans that an unforgettable World Cup was in store particularly after Collins Injera and Lavin Asego lacerated Scotland to post that emphatic 38-0 scoreline.
Those 14 minutes of Scotland’s destruction served as a template of some of the areas the team were working on to improve their game.
Unlike in previous seasons when we used to hand possession to the other team by kicking the ball away, Kenya kept the ball in hand and patiently playing through the phases and striking with devastating breaks through gaps that would eventually form after incessant pressure.
This strategy served Kenya well in the epic battle against New Zealand in which we led 12-7 at half time and could have won had basic errors not come back to haunt us.
Throughout the Dubai tournament, Kenya kicked the ball less than three times in open play, which is crucial in sevens if you want to make the most out of ball possession within a limited period of time.
The blowout loss to South Africa taught Kenya how to be tenacious against physically superior sides and it served them well in the plate final against Samoa who laboured to a 12-7 victory us.
It was clear that opposing sides had done their homework when they came up against Kenya in George.
From where they directed their kickoffs to cutting off the supply line to Injera, Kenya failed to adapt to the on field conditions which in turn put their game plan into disarray.
To put it simply, Kenya failed to replicate their Dubai form at Outeniqua Park where they were seemed to struggle with something basic like ball retention.
The set piece was an area of concern particularly at the rucks where the ball took an eternity to be recycled giving the opposition time to reset their defence hence strangling Kenya’s attack.
With Dennis Mwanja ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and Edwin Shimenga unavailable, Kenya is likely to continue struggling at the set piece unless Ayimba comes up with a magic formula to make us contest that area.
The impending return of Allan Onyango and Innocent Simiyu cannot come soon enough for the team whose assignment now has inevitably become tougher with the established sides now taking notice of the threat we pose.
As Ayimba stated as he winded down his press briefing after the team’s arrival from South Africa on Monday, they are headed for war in March when the World Cup takes place, an assurance that the side know what is at stake in the coming months and that they will work hard to right the wrongs of last weekend.