NAIROBI, Kenya, February 13- The national rugby sevens team rolled back to town VIP style – with an entourage comprising of three stretch limos ferrying the team from the airport- after their mixed bag tour of Wellington and USA Sevens on Wednesday.
With head coach Mike Friday returning home to England, the squad has 12 days to rest before gathering for intense training ahead of the Hong Kong and Japan legs of the HSBC World Sevens Series where the side hopes to bounce back from a disappointing outing in Las Vegas last weekend.
The red carpet reception that was crowned by the presentation of Sh3.825m in bonuses from sponsors Kenya Airways was the right tonic the team needed after the high of reaching the Main Cup final in New Zealand was followed by the deflating run in USA with only a point to show.
“It was exciting, it was tempting but it was never to be. We didn’t win it and that is what happened at the end of the day. We were not bad in Las Vegas; it was the same team that performed well in New Zealand.
“These games come with a little bit of luck and we were just unfortunate that we did not get the results we wanted in Las Vegas. The team was ready, we played well but the results did not come,” captain Andrew Amonde summed the topsy-turvy outing of reaching the Main Cup final in New Zealand where they stunned the hosts at the semis enroute followed by the inability to click in USA a week later.
“It’s hurting but we have to take it. Its part of life, there are things you cannot have control over, there are things you lose and you have be ready to go on,” he added on Kenya coming within a second of winning their first Main Cup in the final against England only to lose 24-19 in extra time with two players in the sin bin.
Their arrival caused a stir at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and along Nairobi’s busy Mombasa Road as the squad was ushered to a sumptuous breakfast with their limousines coming complete with security detail in addition to a new Mini Cooper escort.
The vehicles number plates had been customised to read, Kenya 7s has swag (style) in acknowledgement of their titanic effort that fell just short of making history in their only second ever Main Cup final appearance.
“That is a big motivation to the boys. As a player, we are very motivated and look forward to the next tournament,” Amonde stated in hailing the first welcome of such magnitude accorded to the side.
While the rank and file that turned up to receive the team hailed their New Zealand exploits, the slump in Las Vegas was duly deemed as a wake up call for the team to establish itself as a consistent side for the remaining half of the World Series.
“We must work to ensure we are accurate when it comes to the next tournaments. It is always difficult to maintain performances in second tournaments. We must be accurate in regards to our set plays and defensively, ensuring we are not leaking in easy tries.
“We must mix up our play well to ensure we get wins. The players did a fantastic job in New Zealand having arrived there late in Las Vegas, we lost the first game which took us back a bit and we did not recover going forward. At the end of the day, the players have to make good decisions on the pitch,” assistant coach and analyst Felix Ochieng stressed.
He added: “We need to be disciplined on the pitch and take our opportunities. Teams are coming hard on us and it is a good learning curve to our young players. The players are mentally capable of handling the situation.”
On Hong Kong and Japan, the tactician declared they would seek to go one better and bag the elusive Main Cup.
“To get to the finals of any competition and you lose, it is very tough on the players. These players experienced it for the first time; it was very hurting to get so close yet to far. We count our loss and move on,” Ochieng underscored.
The overriding feeling among the gathered was a series leg win was inching ever closer.
“The performance in New Zealand shows categorically we belong up there with the best. In Las Vegas, there was a lot of fatigue creeping in but we cannot give that as a reason.
“It will take time to build that consistency and it is not far off. What we learned in Vegas is that we need to start well. The World Series is ruthless and we need to get in consistency to win the cup,” Kenya Rugby Union chair, Mwangi Muthee opined.
“The players were affected by the Vegas performance more than Kenyans think. After their loss to Australia, they all went back to their hotel to reflect but I can put my money on us being a good team very soon,” he added.
“Although there is something happening on March 4, people were watching across the country for the team, the number of people who watched the New Zealand game was overwhelming.
“I’m sure when you come back here next time, we will be ready to receive you in a bigger way,” Titus Naikuni, the CEO of Kenya Airways told the squad.
The Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on will run from March 22 to 24 with the Japan leg being staged on March 30 and 31 with Kenya lying sixth in the IRB standings on 56 points having rising to a high of second after New Zealand.