Rugby Rugby

Ambaka returns for Olympic qualifiers

Willy Ambaka in action when he featured for Shujaa in 2015 Safari 7s. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, November 10 – National sevens head coach Benjamin Ayimba has recalled ace winger Willy Ambaka in his 12-man squad for this weekend’s 2016 Olympic African qualifying tournament in South Africa.

The injury-prone 25-year-old Ambaka, who returned to the country to feature for Kenya Harlequins after South African side side, Western Province failed to renew his contract, has not played for his country since the 2012-13 World Sevens series.

But he caught the eyes of the national selectors during the Safari Sevens in Nairobi in September when he emerged as the top scorer and Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

Ayimba handed Kenya Harlequin winger, Frank Wanyama and Homeboyz’s Jeffrey Oluoch their debuts, as top-seed Kenya bids to grab the sole berth to next year’s Olympics in Rio, after failing to garner a top-four slot in the 2014-15 World Sevens series, which also doubled up as the Olympic qualifying competition.

The head coach urged his charges not to down play any team even though they enter into the tournament as favourites by virtue of them being the the only core side.

“Because we are seen as the best team, everyone will be coming hard on us. Zimbabwe has been in South Africa since they left Safari Sevens while Namibia have strengthened their squad but we are prepared and that’s why I’m confident.

“We are fired up for the tournament and since every player’s dream is to play in Olynpics, that already is a motivation. We have not given anybody a chance to think its a straight ticket as it may look. We are going to take every game seriously since its a one off,” Ayimba who was re-appointed in September declared.

Commenting on the 2015-16 Rugby Sevens World Series that is set to get underway in December with the first leg in Dubai, Ayimba said their main goal was to improve the team’s 13th position.

“Our main focus has been to build a side for the first six tournaments in the series but the dilemma we fall under is we have very quality players so we will have to rotate them and give everybody a chance,” Ayimba added.

Former Sri-Lanka based winger, Oscar Ouma was dropped after failing to report camp at Nandi Hills where the squad of 27 underwent high altitude training for two weeks.

Also missing from the team that saw majority of experienced players retained are former skipper and veteran Humphrey Kayange and Impala RFC’s Sammy Oliech.

Ayimba said Kayange is still on rehabilitation while Oliech withdrew due to school commitments but the two will be considered for the series.

“Kayange joined us late but his leadership has been very important in camp and he has been a pillar that we require between the older and younger players.

“For now he is not fit enough and we are not going to rush him but he has done a great job in mentoring the players,” Ayimba underscored.

The team that will depart on Thursday will be led by Andrew Amonde assisted by record top try scorer, Collins Injera.

Kenya is drawn in Pool A alongside Madagascar, Mauritius and Senegal.

In Pool B are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda while Pool C features Botswana, Morocco, Namibia and Tunisia.

The top team will qualify for the Olympics, while the runners-up, third and fourth-placed teams will go through to a final Olympic world qualifying tournament, which will take place in 2016 at a venue to be decided.

Kenya Squad:

Andrew Amonde(KCB, Captain), Collins Injera (Mwamba), Jeffrey Oluoch (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Eden Agero (Kenya Harlequin),Biko Adema (Total Nondies), Augustine Lugonzo (Menengai Cream Homeboyz),William Ambaka (Kenya Harlequin), Oscar Ayodi (Menengai Cream Homeboyz),Dennis Ombachi (Mwamba), Frank Wanyama (Kenya Harlequin), Leonard Mugaisi (Menengai Cream Homeboyz), Billy Odhiambo (Pan Africa Strathmore Leos)

Head Coach: Benjamin Ayimba, Assistant Coach: Paul Murunga, S&C: Geoffrey Kimani, Physio: Lameck Bogonko, Team Manager: Newton Ong’alo.