NAIROBI, Kenya, November 14- Coach Mitch Ocholla will discover on Friday whether his planned revolution of the national rugby sevens team has sunk in to his players when they open their 2011/2012 HSBC Sevens World Series campaign against titans New Zealand.
The venue of his baptism of fire is in the land down under where he will seek to lift his team up during the Gold Coast Sevens by navigating past the All Blacks, the equally formidable Fiji and tiny Niue in Pool A of the competition.
“It’s a relatively new side with six new debutants. All said and done, they are tried and tested on the local side and in the Castleford and Safari Sevens and they are ready to take on the world,” Ocholla, the former Strathmore University coach who replaced Benjamin Ayimba at the helm of the team said before departure.
He was counting on the novelty of his squad to cause what would be considered an upset if they bag one of the two Main Cup quarters place in Gold Coast ahead of New Zealand and Fiji.
“Equally, they have to wary about our level of play in as much as we are concerned about their experience. We are under no pressure at all and we need to go out there and play our game,” he added.
For the first time in almost six years, Kenya will line-up without their talismanic former skipper, Humphrey Kayange, who stepped down from the side to pursue higher education at Bristol University.
His successor, Sydney Ashioya, who ceded the captaincy to Kayange upon the appointment of Ayimba in 2006 is relishing his second stint at the position but admitted the looming shadow of the player nicknamed ‘Tall’ over his charge was enormous.
“The shoes left to fill by Kayange are pretty huge but equally, I’m up for the task, I believe in the guys behind me, it’s a formidable squad that can get results. We are not going there to just play but win,” Ashioya said before the team left for Gold Coast Sevens.
Kenya will field against New Zealand at 7:03am local time with Ocholla’s squad lining-up against the Fijians at 10:31am (+3GMT). Their last group encounter will see them take on their easiest opponents on paper, Niue, at 12:36pm.
Besides the lack of Ayimba at the dug-out and Kayange on the flanks, Kenya will also compete for the first time under a new bonus structure announced by their sponsors, Kenya Airways that will see pay-outs given to reflect their progression at every round this season.
And for once, the Kenyan players turning out at the series are contracted by Kenya Rugby Union, an infant step towards fully professionalizing the team that until this campaign, were the only amateur side in the IRB World Series.
Following the $2.9m (Sh290m) sponsorship deal with Kenya Airways 18 players will be contracted.
Seven fresh faces made the list of contracted players namely, Isaiah Moseti, Christopher Asego, Michael Agevi, a younger brother of Kayange, Dennis Ombachi, Tony Onyango, Philip Wamae, and Michael Wanjala.
Moseti, Asego, Agevi, Ombachi and Onyango will have their baptism of fire at the Gold Coast opener after they made the travelling 12 of the opening leg of the HSBC series.
For a series win, each member of the squad will receive a $5,000 (Sh500,000) pay out with $3,000 (Sh300,000) for final appearance with $2,000 (Sh200,000) and $1,000 (Sh100,000) per head set out for semi and quarter-final appearances in addition to monthly salaries under the terms of the KQ sponsorship deal.
AUSTRALIA SQUAD: Sidney Ashioya (Quins/Captain), Isaiah Moseti (Homeboyz), Christopher Asego (Mwamba), Michael Agevi (Mwamba), William Ambaka (Quins), Dennis Ombachi (Mwamba), Tony Onyango (Strathmore), Horace Otieno (Mwamba), Charles Kanyi (Nondies), Patrice Agunda (Quins), Oscar Ouma (Nakuru) and Andrew Amonde (KCB).