NAIROBI, Kenya, February 13 – After a week of non-sporting headlines at Kenya Rugby Union (KRU), attention returns to the pitch this weekend when the national team bids for a second successive Main Cup quarters qualification at Las Vegas 7s, the fifth stop of the 2014/15 HSBC World Series.
After defying the odds to collect 10 points at Wellington last weekend with a Plate Semi final run in their first Main Cup quarters appearance of an underwhelming season, Felix Ochieng’s charges will be seeking to move further from the bottom half of the standings after climbing from the relegation zone to 12th.
However, with the team that has 21 points is set to be without record try scorer and vice captain Collins Injera (199) who returned home to welcome his second born as they take on as tough group in USA against England, Argentina and Canada in Pool B.
Injera, who was influential in Kenya’s best performance this season at Wellington, where he grounded a try after his return to the team since last year’s Commonwealth Games was replaced by Kenya Harlequins’ Dennis Muhanji.
“He comes in as we look to maintain our balance both technically and tactically without compromising on our deliverables, while at the same time it is a fantastic opportunity and challenge for Muhanji for we believe he can contribute positively to our team goals,” Kenya Sevens head coach Ochieng said.
Despite featuring all experienced players the team lacked in the past three rounds, the team will have to improve on ball handling that saw them concede most the tries from interceptions.
Ochieng’ will parade his troops for the opening match against Wellington Shield winners Canada on Saturday morning at 4:50am local time (GMT+3).
Shujaa who has not won a match against the Canadians in their last six meetings will approach the match cautiously despite fielding the seasoned players absent when their opponents stopped them three-times this season under former head coach, South African Paul Treu.
The next match will see Kenya lock horns with sixth placed Argentina at 7:46am, in a decider to their progression to the Main Cup last eight.
The Pumas have made three changes with Coach Santiago Gomez who will be without Santiago Cordero, Ramiro Moyano and Javier Rojas has called in Franco Sabato, Francisco Morello and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla to replace the trio.
It’s expected to be a tough encounter with Kenya seeking for revenge after losing 31-7 in Wellington.
Argentina has a better head to head record after winning 10 against seven in their 17 meetings but that will not worry Ochieng’ especially after his boys stunned Samoa in New Zealand.
The last preliminary fixture will be against Wellington runners-up England on Sunday at 12:30am.
England has made two changes with Alex Davis and Jack Walsh replacing David Watson and Bowen who picked injuries.
Ochieng’ will face a litmus test when the two sides clash as Kenya will be seeking to end a three year winless run against the Englishmen.
England who will be buoyed by the fact that they reached Wellington 7s finals has beaten Kenya 14 times in contrast to Kenya’s seven in their 22 encounters.
Kenya who performed poorly in the opening three rounds in Gold Coast, Dubai and Port Elizabeth are still in a rescue mission, seeking to maintain their core status.
The week has been dominated by a leadership coup at KRU and subsequent disassociation by 18 clubs from the process that ushered former vice-chairman, Sasha Mutai to power.
Former rugby sevens head coach, Benjamin Ayimba, declined to take up the post of director.