Grit, determination won Kenya swift promotion Word Rugby Sevens Series

Kenya Sevens players

Kenya Sevens players celebrate qualification for 2025 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at Stadium Civitas Metropolitano in Madrid on Sunday.

Photo credit: Photo | World Rugby

Kenya returns to a much-changed terrain in the Word Rugby Sevens Series that requires great effort and skill to survive in.

While Kenya suffered relegation to the World Rugby Challenger Series, World Rugby came up with a different format for the World Rugby Sevens Series starting from the 2023/2024, reducing the number of teams from 16 to 12 in both men and women’s series.

On Sunday in Madrid, Kenya, the United States of America, Uruguay and Spain won their play-off matches to qualify for 2024/2025 World Rugby Sevens Series, where they will join eight other teams. Kenya Sevens coach Kevin “Bling” Wambua reckons nothing is impossible with determination.

It is the sort of confidence that has driven Kenya Rugby Union chairman Sasha Mutai to declare that Kenya Sevens is back in World Rugby to stay, adding that he has faith in the transformation KRU has undertaken to regain core status.

But what won Kenya Sevens promotion back to the World Rugby Sevens Series after a season out?

Transform the team

When coach Wambua took over from Damian McGrath who was sacked last August, few gave him and his young team a chance of winning promotion just so soon, let alone qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Wambua’s team was given four months to transform the team.

Kenya Sevens was relegated from the World Rugby Sevens Series for the first time in 23 years last season after losing the promotion and relegation play-off.

Wambua took over at a time when Kenya Sevens and the country was at its lowest ebb. Following the team’s relegation, senior members of the squad retired almost in the same period. One of Kenya’s greatest moments in the World Rugby Sevens Series was when they stunned Fiji 30-7 to win the 2016 Singapore Sevens.

The team had reached the main Cup final four times; in 2009 (Adelaide Sevens), in 2013 (Wellington Sevens), in 2018 (Canada Sevens), and in 2018 (Hong Kong Sevens).

Wambua inherited a team that had lost Collins Injera, William Ambaka and Billy Odhiambo to retirement last year.

Other players who retired at their prime include Eden Agero, Bush Mwale, Augustine Lugonzo, Oscar Ouma and Oscar Ayodi.

Wambua’s first assignment was the Africa Cup, and he picked a young squad, recalling only three seasoned players - Vincent Onyala, Anthony Omondi and Herman Humwa - to the squad.

Patrick Odongo (Daystar), Samuel ‘TinTin’ Asati (KCB) and Nigel Amaitsa (Strathmore Leos) were some of the new players in the team. Kenya shocked South Africa17-12 in the final in Zimbabwe last September. to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games. For the third consecutive time, Kenya will compete at the Olympics.

Beating Samurai Barracudas

They then retained Safari Sevens title, beating Samurai Barracudas 19-0 in the final, a performance that saw Wambua’s tenure as the coach extended to 2026.

Kenya Sevens rode through the three-leg World Rugby Challenger Series in Dubai, Uruguay, and Germany and finished in the top four to qualify for the promotion and relegation play-offs in Madrid where Kenya earned promotion to the top series. SportPesa’s return as sponsors with Sh126 million sponsorship in December 2022 eased things for Kenya Sevens.

“Dare to dream but more importantly, dare to put action behind your dreams,” Wambua said of the team’s winning mentality.

 “We have the right people at the technical bench but there are no shortcuts in high performance. We must expose this young team to quality tournaments,” said Mutai, adding that they hope to draw the top team for Safari Sevens ahead of the World Series in December.

Team captain Vincent Onyala thanked everyone who believed and trusted in the team and above all God.

“The coaches, new talent and everyone believed in the new direction we took,” said Onyala.