Photo credit: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
In numerology, the number eight is seen as representing balance and harmony and it certainly seems as if though the Kenyan Sevens team has found some.
Shujaa cruised through to the quarterfinals at the 2019 Cape Town Sevens after beating Australia 12-7 on Saturday. That victory followed on the back of their 19-24 win against Samoa on Friday.
Their final Pool D clash against fellow surprise package Ireland ended 24 all, setting up a potentially tasty African final against South Africa in the knockouts.
The Blitzboks have one match left to play, but should top the group, barring catastrophe.
The two sides met in Dubai on the opening weekend, with South Africa winning 17-12. Vincent Onyala, who scored one of Kenya’s four tries against Ireland, said the team’s looking forward to the clash.
“We’re very ready for South Africa. We played them in Dubai, we have a few hiccups to fix, but we’re ready,” he told Extra Time Media after his side’s final pool game.
South Africa might be the hosts, but the East African team has plenty of support in the stands. A shame, then, that one side’s cup journey will end. But Onyala says it doesn’t matter when the two teams play – it’s always tough.
“Anywhere we meet them will be a big hustle for both teams,” the 23-year old added.
The East African side had a torrid time during the 2018-19 season, progressing to the cup knockouts just once. That came in the final tournament in Paris.
It was a far cry from their 2017-18 season, where they finished on that magic number eight spot overall. The finished as runners’ up twice that season and progressed to seven knockouts.
Kenya have a reputation for being unpredictable. The East Africans haven’t always had it easy, marred by maladministration which has led to player strikes.
But under the tutelage of new head coach Paul Feeney, a New Zealander, the side has set themselves a target of finishing inside the top ten this season. They missed relegation by the skin on their teeth last season.
“We are looking to have a consistent season, aiming for a top-eight finish at the close of the 2019/2020 campaign,” Feeney said ahead of the opening round of the 2019-20 World Series Sevens in Dubai.
Kenya have secured Olympic qualification already, so the coach can focus much of his attention on the World Series. He had nothing but praise for his squad before the opening weekend.
“The players worked very hard throughout the competition. They trained for 11 weeks non-stop. So, I am very proud of them. I like our preparations for the 2020 World Rugby Sevens Series.”
Securing a spot in the Cape Town Sevens knockouts with one match left to play is a rare treat for the Kenyan Sevens side, though. And with their lofty ambitions for the season, it’s a much needed positive.
Most of all, it looks like the players are having fun. Are they?
“We’re having fun,” Onyala says.
As much fun as one can have when being interrogated after running yourself ragged for 14 minutes, anyway.
“Having the senior players back in and gelling with the rookies helps. We’re having fun. It’s a good run for us. There are big lessons for us going forward, we’re aiming for the top eight,” he added.
Kenya Sevens progression over the last three seasons
A star indicates making it to the knockouts of a tournament.