NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20- After a successful season at the World Rugby Sevens Series which saw them surpass the 100-point barrier for the first time in their history, the national sevens team will be up to complete the season in style when they kick off their World Cup adventure on Friday night at the AT&T Park in San Francisco, United States.
Shujaa cross the white chalk at 11:03pm against the tournament’s lowest ranked team Tonga in their opening game in what is a new revamped format for the World Cup.
A win against Tonga will earn them a ticket to the second round of 16 where they have been pooled against the remaining top eight ranked teams with Scotland being their next opponents.
“It is a very interesting pooling where you really have to adapt fast to the chaos of the game. But for us, we have our performance targets which we have to stick to and we will be ready to take on each team,” head coach Innocent Simiyu said prior to the team’s departure to San Francisco.
If they go past the Scotland hurdle, Simiyu’s charges will grab a potential quarter final tie against South Africa, if the Springboks manage to find a way past either Ireland or Chile.
Shujaa aim to do better than the previous two occasions in 2009 and 2013 when they made it into the semi-finals, but they find the path more difficult this year with the innovative format.
“We set our goals and mission before coming here. For some, the story might end here while for some it may continue to 2020. The aim is just to put in a shift and ensure we get good results during our story time,” the tactician further said ahead of the championship.
The team says it has put behind all the woes that threatened to derail their preparation for the World Cup, with coach Simiyu having been fired and re-hired all within a space of three days.
Drama started off at the Paris leg of the Sevens Series when the team masked out the image of sponsors Brand Kenya protesting lack of payment of their bonuses, leading to cancellation of the Sh20mn sponsorship by Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala.
The ensuing drama saw the Kenya Rugby Union fire Simiyu after he shouldered the blame for the fiasco, but after a meeting with Sports CS Rashid Echesa, services returned to normal.
“Of course we had a delay in our program with the strike, then I was out of the job… but players managed to train by themselves and we picked up when we got back now it is just to make sure that we are performing,” the tactician further stated.
His sentiments were echoed by Collins Injera who will be making history by being the first Kenyan to play at three consecutive World Cups.
“We had some hiccups but some are sorted now. The boys are really focused they want to play well at the World Cup stage. We have prepared well with two weeks of hard intense training and now we need to go and do what we do best,” Injera noted.
Shujaa have played in four previous World Cups, exiting at the bowl stages on their 2001 debut in Mar del Plata, Argentina and Hong Kong in 2005 before reaching the cup semis in 2009 (Dubai, UAE) and 2013 (Moscow, Russia).
Shujaa’s Rugby World Cup Sevens squad:
Oscar Ayodi (Captain, Homeboyz), Collins Injera (Mwamba), Andrew Amonde (KCB), William Ambaka (Kenya Harlequin), Samuel Oliech (Impala Saracens), Nelson Oyoo (Nakuru), Dennis Ombachi (Nondescripts), Jeff Oluoch (Homeboyz), Brian Tanga (Kabras Sugar), Eden Agero (Kenya Harlequin), Herman Humwa (Kenya Harlequin), Samuel Ng’ethe (Menengai Oilers)
Management: Innocent Simiyu (Head Coach), Geoffrey Kimani (Conditioning Coach), Lamech Bogonko (Physio), Erick Ogweno (Team Manager).