NAIROBI, Kenya, April 7 – As top five teams; South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand, England and Australia battle for automatic 2016 Olympic Games qualification, Kenya have been left to pick the scraps of saving their Core Status in the HSBC World Series.
With the 2014/15 season entering enters its penultimate legs in Europe next month pressure is on head coach Felix ‘Totti’ Ochieng to rescue Shujaa’s dignity after an underwhelming tour of the Far East.
Ochieng swore Kenya would not be relegated under his reign and was confident his charges will finish the season on a high when the tour wraps with the Glasgow and London 7s tournaments next month.
He was speaking when the crestfallen squad arrived back to Nairobi Tuesday to a low key reception where no officials from Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) or sponsors Kenya Airways were on hand to receive them at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
“The results were not favourable in Hong Kong it was so close yet too far and ended up playing in the Shield, but in Japan we started well but lost focus against South Africa and Canada. We are very disappointed with the results; our structures worked well but did not reflect in regards to the score sheet.
“We have only two tournaments to go and I understand there is a lot of pressure in regards to relegation, I assure our fans we are on task despite the challenge. We have fallen a bit but we will rise, we will always keep on fighting,” Ochieng declared as his downcast players trudged off to a waiting van with heads hung low.
– Sharp contrast-
This was in stark contrast to the fanfare and grandeur that receives them when they perform well in the tour including sumptuous meals and in some cases, limousine rides as the gloom from the pour outing where Kenya scored a paltry four points from the Far East manifested itself.
“I know Kenyan fans are very impatient but I can assure them the job will be done. I’m committed and I’d rather die than for Kenya to lose Core Status,” the head coach pledged.
Shujaa failed to reach a second Main Cup quarter-finals of the season as Ochieng registered his worst returns since taking charge in January.
He did not spare his boys criticism after they failed to maintain consistency that saw them lift the consolation Shield in Hong Kong before fading under in Tokyo where they were bundled out in the semis of the same competition by Argentina.
Kenya who are drawn in another uncompromising Pool B at Glasgow 7s in Scotland alongside series leaders South Africa, New Zealand and Samoa, must reach at least the Bowl final in at the penultimate leg to avoid relegation.
“It’s a very tough pool South Africa and New Zealand are playing for Olympic qualifiers while Samoa are trying to climb the ladder so we have teams who are also playing for their lives just like us.
“We have to respect the opposition but we don’t fear them. It’s not negotiable; we need to go out there and perform if we are to remain in the Series,” Ochieng underpinned.
Experienced fly half Lavin Asego is out for the rest of the season after the Mwamba man was operated on in Japan after sustaining an ankle injury against the Blitzbokke.
However, the coach was up beat Michael Wanjala and vice captain Collins Injera will recover in time ahead of Glasgow and London rounds.
“Losing Asego was critical because he is a key player maker in combining the backs and the forwards but we will work hard in training to see his position is filled.”
– Adema, Lugonzo vying-
Skipper Andrew Amonde, was downcast but looking forward to the side bouncing back to finish with a flourish.
“Our performance was below limit and it was very pathetic. We are very sorry to our fans, sponsor and Union, this is the first time we have left the country down and the players are aware of it but we are going to work hard for the remaining legs.
“We need to work more in the execution and score more tries, we are not afraid of relegation we are sure we will get back to form,” he rued.
The series heads to Glasgow on the weekend of May 9 and 10 before wrapping up in Landon a week later.