NAIROBI, February 15 – Now that was more like it from Kenya in Las Vegas.
The national sevens rugby team showed poise, character and resilience to reach their second main cup quarterfinals of the 2009/2010 IRB season.
Watching the boys in the early hours of Monday morning, you got the sense that this was the old Kenya, with the fighting spirit. There was no giving up and most of those errors in Wellington a week earlier had been erased.
The presence of a partisan crowd certainly helped as over 1500 fans showed up bedecked in the red, black, white and green colours recreating the carnival atmosphere usually found at the RFUEA grounds in Nairobi during Safari Sevens.
The epic win over England was particularly satisfying as they came from behind to tie at the death. Skipper Humphrey Kayange’s try right at the death to tie the scores at 21-21 was followed by Lavin Asego’s cool conversion.
Bring on extra time where quick thinking by Gibson Weru put Benedict Nyambu through and see off the former colonial master.
Despite losing to All Blacks in the semis, the Kenyan side was committed and ferocious. Fighting and scraping through the 14 minutes and the 21-7 scoreline was harsh on Kenya.
The inclusion of veteran Allan Onyango certainly added weight to the front row while the Asego is currently enjoying the form of his life. The flyhalf has been in exceptional form with his vision and hardwork and creativity.
Add in Weru’s industry at scrumhalf and Kenya was a different side from the listless one that lost to Australia in plate semis in New Zealand.
Felix Ochieng’s addition to the technical bench also seemed to have brought with him calmness and organization.
Moving forward, Kenya certainly has closed the gap. To have 44 points after four rounds is commendable as is reaching main cup semis twice not to mention the cup quarters of every leg so far.
To put it in perspective, Kenya finished the 07-08 season with 38 points and notched 64 points in the whole of the 08-09 circuit.
When Ayimba took over in November 2006, he set about building a team from the foundation and so far he is living upto his promise to establish Kenya as a top sevens side. That Kenya now has one of the most experienced sides in the circuit is credit to the consistency established under the former captain.
Expectedly, fans will now be willing the team on to go and reach a final if not win one of the four remaining legs.
To do this, we probably need more ballast in the tight areas and the scrum to compete with the overly physical sides that tend to dominate us in these areas.
There is also need for another option in the finishing business would help especially as Collins Injera is a marked man. The injury to Ashioya certainly denied Ayimba a key weapon.
Maybe its time for Horace Otieno to step up and show he can handle the big stage.