NAIROBI, May 15 – After a disappointing run in the last eight tournaments, the national rugby sevens team are out to finish on a high as curtain comes down on the 2014–15 HSBC Sevens World Series this weekend in London.
Shujaa who are drawn in a relatively manageable Pool C with hosts England, Scotland and Brazil, will be looking to collect more than 10 points to surpass their best outing thus far in Wellington, New Zealand to redeem some pride.
Kenya are vying to win two of their group matches to increase their chances of reaching the Main Cup quarter-final in four outings for what would only be their second last eight showing this term.
On the other end of the spectrum. a titanic contest to win the overall title is on with leaders Fiji, South Africa and defending champions New Zealand chasing the coveted crown in a competition that has come down to the wire,
Felix Ochieng charges return to Twickenham, a stadium they reached the Plate final last season to battle for their reputation with their hardest test coming in their first game against hosts, England at 1:34pm local time (+3GMT).
Having failed to breakthrough England for the past two seasons, Shujaa will be seeking to end a seven matches losing streak against a side that has shattered their Cup quarters dreams four-times this season.
A rejuvenated England is taking nothing to chance since they only need to reach the Bowl final to automatically qualify for 2016 Rio Olympics Games to join Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand who sealed the first three slots at last weekend’s Glasgow 7s.
Both sides have retained line-ups that did duty in Scotland but group favourites England have the home advantage in a clash that will see the winner have one foot in the Cup last eight.
“This is the first time this season I have been able to pick the same 12 players for two back-to-back tournaments so it is a bit of a luxury for us. They are all fit, fresh and ready to go and that will give us a good level of consistency.
“Everyone is excited to play in front of their friends and family. To play the Marriott London Sevens in front of what will be no doubt a world-record crowd in the climax of the season is an incredibly exciting opportunity. They all can’t wait to get out there and do their very best in an England shirt,” England head Coach Simon declared.
At 4:18pm, Kenya will lock horns with Scotland, a side that is five places above them and despite being inconsistent they will be out to prove a point on enemy territory.
Shujaa will be buoyed by their good run against the Scots, having won 19-14 in their last meeting at Wellington 7s.
Scotland head coach Calum MacRae has made three changes handing forward Hugh Blake, winger Jamie Farndale and full-back Glenn Bryce their debut which he believes will give the Kenyan robust defence a hard time.
“The new caps will bring an attacking edge to the group as it is something that comes naturally to all three of them. Kenya are a physical and free running team, they have strong runners when given space to open up.”
Ochieng is expected to field an experienced starting line-up of, skipper Andrew Amonde, Humphrey Kayange, Dennis Ombachi, Collins Injera, Biko Adema, Billy Odhiambo and Michael Wanjala to punish the Scots on the breakdown with their speedy wide play.
At the same, Kenya has a task of tightening its defence, improving in the line-out and scrum that has cost them dearly in some of the matches they lost this season.
Shujaa will end the day against non-core invitee Brazil at 7:24pm in an encounter Ochieng boys enter as favourites.
Returning for its third tournament this year, Brazil is the only team this season to have been invited multiple times due to their automatic qualification for the Olympic Games as the host nation.
To date, not a single non-core team has won a match this season, though Brazil might notch a victory more likely on Day 2 than in pool play.
Despite a bumpy season of mixed results, Kenya is still in a class above Brazil.
At the top, three nations still hold a chance to claim the series title with Series leaders Fiji who last lifted the trophy in 2006 on course to end New Zealand’s four year dominance.
New Zealand Cup victory and a Fiji loss in the Cup quarter-finals, may see All Blacks claim a staggering 13th series championship–out of 16 seasons–and fifth consecutive.
Kenya local timings (+3 GMT)
England vs Kenya 1:34PM
Scotland vs Kenya 4:18pm
Kenya vs Brazil 7:24pm