The underwhelming performance by Kenya in the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town should provide some food for thought for administrators of the local sport. Kenya Sevens rugby team, nicknamed Shujaa, wrapped up the season with a Challenge Trophy performance at the quadrennial championship that ended last night at the Cape Town Stadium in South Africa.
Shujaa, who reached the semi-finals of the 2009 and 2013 editions of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, lost 26-19 to the United States of America in the classification matches to finish 12th overall. Kenya beat Tonga 19-0 in their opening match on Friday but lost 22-7 to Argentina in the round of 16 of the Main Cup to drop to the semi-finals of the less prestigious Challenge Trophy category, where they nonetheless lost 36-0 to England.
But Kenya’s poor run is not surprising to those who have been following the team. They came seventh out of 15 at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, in Birmingham, in July and wound up 12th in the 2021/2022 World Rugby Sevens Series. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games, they were ninth out of 12.
However, they have had positives. Since Briton Damian McGrath took over from Innocent Simiyu as coach in May, their technical approach to matches and the strength and conditioning of players have improved. Last month, they reached the main Cup quarter-final of the final leg of the 2021/2022 World Rugby Sevens Series in Los Angeles.
For an upward trajectory, Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) must arrest the high turnover of coaches at the team. With McGrath’s arrival, the Kenya Sevens job has changed hands 11 times since 2010, an average of just over one coach a year. Nine coaches have taken charge of the team in the past 12 years with Benjamin Ayimba at the helm on two occasions.
Whereas under-performing coaches should not be tolerated, the technical bench needs reasonable time to deliver. KRU and the coaches must now have the 2024 Olympics in mind.