Hong Kong chance for Shujaa to rediscover its mojo
- The Hong Kong Sevens will kick off in exactly one week. The three-day rugby festival will undoubtedly be another opportunity for Kenya to change its dwindling fortunes on the international scene
- Six rounds into the 2018/19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the national team sit 14th on the standings and the statistics are telling of a team enduring a tumultuous start to their season
Analysis by Bernard Ndong
The Hong Kong Sevens will kick off in exactly one week. The three-day rugby festival will undoubtedly be another opportunity for Kenya to change its dwindling fortunes on the international scene.
Six rounds into the 2018/19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the national team sit 14th on the standings and the statistics are telling of a team enduring a tumultuous start to their season.
Shujaa have a meagre win percentage rate of 22, which translates to seven wins out of 32 games played in the past six legs in Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Las Vegas and Vancouver.
In the previous round in Vancouver, Kenya left Canada without a single win, crestfallen and edged even closer to relegation. Two weeks before the team for Hong Kong and Singapore was named, the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) top brass met the senior players hoping to convince them to return to rescue the team.
The KRU proposed a two-months contract to the senior players; an offer they hoped would convince them to return. The players were structured into three tiers.
Tier one comprising of the senior players who led Shujaa to two cup finals last season and a maiden title in Singapore in 2016, and two other tiers.
Tier one players would be paid KSh100,000 monthly, tier two KSh70,000 and tier three players would receive KSh50,000 monthly.
KRU also stated that these salaries could be doubled for tier one players and increased by 142 percent for the second tier players once the union secured a long-term sponsor.
Only a few of the senior players accepted the offer with the majority of the experienced battalion sceptical about the new terms.
According to sources, a return-to-play formula for the senior players was mooted after the first two rounds of the world sevens series in Dubai and Capetown once the warning bells rung.
The conversation trailed off after the New Zealand and Australia rounds when the team seemingly regained its rhythm but was reignited once again after the disastrous North American tour in March where Kenya sunk further in the World Sevens series pecking order.
Shujaa has been a core team since the 1999/2000 season, they have played 783 games, won 337 and lost 433. They are currently 14th in the world sevens series standings, one position above relegation with a paltry 18 points.
A stopgap measure was clearly needed by the new chairman Oduor Gangla who was elected on March 20 2019 to rescue the sport’s flagship brand. Bringing back the old guard was the only logical step but how quickly would they gel with the rest of the squad?
The current team has displayed flashes of brilliance and a seemingly never-say-die attitude in the face of strong opposition. Mwamba’s Daniel Taabu leads Kenya’s points chart with 96 while KCB’s Vincent Onyala has proven to be a try-scoring machine with 16. Homeboyz youngster 19-year old Johnstone Olindi has displayed maturity in the playmaker role and has been the central cog in Kenya’s attacking set-up.
The trio could be the players who herald the new generation of stars who will fill the big shoes of the veterans once they hang their boots.
At the Hong Kong Sevens, Shujaa have an arduous task in Pool C grouped alongside New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia, three teams that have pummelled them mercilessly this season.
Head coach Paul Murunga will be banking on the mental fortitude of the experienced players to inspire the rest of the youngsters to pull a surprise at the famous Hong Kong Stadium.
Two group wins will ensure one foot in the cup quarterfinals, and a higher points haul, which increases their chances to progress into safety.
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