NAIROBI, Kenya, October 13- Should South Africa head coach, Paul Treu fail to lead the country to the Rio 2016 Olympics as promised when he took charge of the national sevens team last year, he already has a readymade explanation.
Kenya started her 2014-15 HSBC World Seven Series last weekend at the Gold Coast 7s with only two points after winning two and losing four matches to sit 14th on the log, 10 places outside what is required to qualify for the Olympics outright.
It was a performance slammed in local media but the mitigating factor was the fact that seven of the 12 who took to the field were first timers, thrown in the deep end of the World Series pool with Treu being forced to re-jig the side when 18 established players were dropped following a dispute with Kenya Rugby Union over central contracts and medical cover among other issues.
Gold Coast was a classic glass half full/glass half empty performance in a tournament where full back Augustine Lugonzo, Michael Wanjala, center Bush Mwale (Homeboyz) lock Oliver Mang’eni and forward Jacob Ojee as well as Nakuru RFC’s back row Martin Owila, earned their first international caps.
The in-experienced side bowed out at the Shield final in Gold Coast, after showing great promise on Day one, where they walloped debutants American Samoa 42-0 but contrived to lose to Wales in their second Pool B match ahead of their 45-0 shellacking by Commonwealth champions South Africa.
Lessons were not learned Sunday when ball handling mistakes cost the team against Portugal in the Bowl quarters before another heavy defeat in the Shield final to Canada.
The results may not disturb Treu since he declared when they departed for Gold Coast they will use the tournament to gauge the players’ ability and see how they adapt against seasoned top sides like New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and South Africa.
Unless the impasse between KRU and the senior players is resolved ahead of the second and third legs of the HSBC series in Dubai and South Africa, then Kenya can expect to turn to the continental qualifiers to vie for a ticket to Rio.
Already, the country has been drawn in Pool C against Australia, England and ironically, USA coached by Treu’s predecessor Mike Friday for Dubai and although some of the debutants particularly Lugonzo excelled, failure to hold on to a top finish in Gold Coast meant Kenya were always in for a tough grouping.
Against Wales and Portugal for example, it was evident the team lacked the cool heads of regulars such as vice-captain and record try scorer, Collins Injera, Michael Wanjala and Oscar Ouma to close the game as they failed to hold on to slim advantages in the closing stages of the matches.
Treu was caught by cameras yelling ‘pole pole’ (slow down) as the clock wound down to the hooter.
Experienced South Africa and consistent Canada on the other hand just lay in wait for the Kenya to make simple mistakes that newbies tend to before ruthlessly punishing them, raining in tries that demoralised the youngsters.
On the positive side the new faces in the team disapproved many by displaying confidence, pride and hunger in donning the red, green, black and white jersey for the first time in their career, giving the dissenting veterans food for thought.
The team looks promising since except from Owila who was drafted from the national 15s, all the new call-ups are aged between 18 and 26 years had the added pride of opening their scoring account in the IRB World Series.
Following the Gold Coast showing, it is in authority that the experience players who could not make the trip since they were late to apply for visas will be back to the fold as KRU seeks to steady the Kenyan ship in a season the team cannot afford to gamble on developing a team capable of reaching the heights that has seen the country rise to two-time Sevens World Cup semi finalists.
With Australia now behind the team that returns home Tuesday, it remains to be seen whether common sense will prevail and the impasse between KRU and senior players will be resolved whilst retaining the youngsters who did well in Gold Coast.
The Dubai 7s will be on the weekend of December 5 and 6 with the Nelson Mandela Bay 7s in Treu’s native land coming a week later.
“They could have beaten Wales and made the Cup quarter finals, and then we would be talking about a different overall performance. The game turns on very small things and this team, with so many new players will learn that.
“The men did pretty well; you could see they went out there determined to do a job against anyone that came including Wales a strong past world champion. And indeed they should because even though we have a crop of new players, so do other teams such as Fiji, Wales, England, Argentina and Samoa,” KRU boss Mwangi Muthee said.
Kenya had the highest number of new players in the entire tournament, seven completely new and three who had five or less previous appearances. Fiji had four debutants and four players with five or less previous caps.
“The most encouraging thing about our team was that they were competitive in that fate- defining game against Wales. We lost it on mistakes that can be corrected, especially positioning.
“Above all, they should be prepared for tight games throughout the World Series where making use of chances is mandatory. We had many that we did not take in situations,” Muthee declared.
Kenya are above Japan and newcomers American Samoa while Main Cup winners Fiji leads the standings on 22 points, three ahead of Samoa, while England are third on 17, two ahead of South Africa.