NAIROBI, Kenya, May 12 – Consistency is probably the thing that has muffled the national sevens team in previous years, so it will be interesting to see how they back it up when they gear up for a stern test of their HSBC Sevens World Series Main Cup title credentials at Paris 7s this weekend.
Shujaa, who hit the headlines in April following their historic first ever Main Cup win at Singapore 7s, will be under pressure as other teams will be looking to get one over on them while they seek to repeat the glory.
Kenya have struggled to maintain consistency this season, blowing hot and cold since opening their campaign with a Bowl semi-final reach at Dubai 7s last December.
They followed up with a fourth place finish at Cape Town, Plate semi at Wellington, Plate final at Sydney, Plate semi at Las Vegas before dipping immensely in Vancouver where they collected a single point at the Shield semi.
In Hong Kong, Shujaa reached the Plate semi before ascending to register their best ever performance in114 tournaments with the Singapore 7s title.
And from the previous performance, it is curious to contemplate how the Benjamin Ayimba side will turn out at the penultimate round of the 2015-16 season in Paris, where they headline a fair Pool A against Portugal, Russia and titans New Zealand.
The team is motivated in Paris where the tournament returns to the French capital city at Stade Jean Bouin for the first time since 2006.
Shujaa had a rare opportunity of meeting 2015 Rugby World Cup hero Dan Carter of New Zealand, who advised them to take it easy against All Blacks when the two sides lock horns in the final match of Pool A on Saturday.
“Nice meeting you guys too. Good luck this weekend just take it easy on the @nz7s boys please,” Carter offered.
Despite the pressure coming from all quarters, head coach Ayimba says it will be business as usual and their aim is to continue building a strong team for the 2016 Olympics, where the shorter version of the game makes a comeback after it was last played 92 years ago in Paris.
“At the beginning of the season we had our target of which we have achieved by winning a Cup for the first time. We are now focusing on the Olympics and our intentions is to use the two final tournaments as part of our preparations,” Ayimba underscored.
“We are aware teams will be coming hard on us after winning in Singapore, but we are ready for any challenge since we are in a tricky Pool,” the coach added.
Ayimba, who made two changes from the victorious Singapore 7s squad, bringing on experienced Billy Odhiambo and youngster Alex Olaba, will see his side open campaign against Portugal on Friday night at 8pm local time (+3GMT).
Shujaa enter the encounter as favorites having not lost to Portugal in the three times they have met this season.
The two sides first met in January at the Wellington 7s where Kenya were 26-5 victorious before clashing again in Las Vegas where Aymba charges won 38-0.
Kenya recorded their biggest win against Portugal at the Vancouver leg with a 43-5 mauling, but skipper Andrew Amonde says they will not down play the Portuguese since they want to start on a winning note.
The second fixture will see Kenya face a tricky Russia side at 11:30am on Saturday in a match that will see them book a place in the Cup quarters with a match to spare, but that’s if they pick two-out-of two wins.
They will be meeting the Russians who are growing in every tournament since earning promotion last season.
In the four times the two sides have clashed, Russia have only won once when they upset Kenya 24-7 at the Vancouver Shield semi-final.
Despite having a better head-to-head record, Shujaa have failed to keep a clean sheet against Russia, winning 24-10 in Sydney, 24-21 in Las Vegas and 21-7 in Singapore.
Kenya will then wrap up their preliminary round fixture against power house New Zealand in a mouth watering match at 3:03pm.
Although they have given the All Blacks a run for their money in the three times they have clashed this season, Kenya have just managed to down the heavy weights once in a 22-0 rout at Las Vegas.
However, having avenged the 36-0 they suffered at the hands of New Zealand when they meet first this season at Wellington 7s, Ayimba boys will be buoyed by that performance to get one over after narrowly losing 5-0 in their last meeting in Hong Kong.
The All Blacks has an experienced team and it will be interesting to see how the Loane boys integrate back into the team, especially after their performances in Wellington and Sydney.
Kenya will be looking to collect more points in Paris to maintain or improve her seventh spot where they occupy on 85 points.