Kenya 7s’ free fall, coach Feeney’s swift exit, hits and misses in rugby season

Kenya Sevens coach Innocent Simiyu addresses the media during a past event.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Kenya Cup was stopped  abruptly after Covid-19 disrupted the global sporting calendar.  The season was headed for an epic end after the 2016 Kenya Cup champions Kabras Sugar beat holders KCB Rugby for the first time to top the regular season.
  • Before that, Homeboyz had diluted Kabras Sugar’s unbeaten run. Kabras and KCB Rugby ended the regular season at the top  of the standings with one loss each. However, the sugar millers were at the summit with 74 points, three better than the bankers.

Kenya’s fortunes in the World Rugby Sevens Series continued to dwindle in the 2019/2020 season even after acquiring a World Cup winning coach, Paul Feeney, who resigned only months into the job.

The Kenya Cup was stopped  abruptly after Covid-19 disrupted the global sporting calendar.  The season was headed for an epic end after the 2016 Kenya Cup champions Kabras Sugar beat holders KCB Rugby for the first time to top the regular season.

Before that, Homeboyz had diluted Kabras Sugar’s unbeaten run. Kabras and KCB Rugby ended the regular season at the top  of the standings with one loss each. However, the sugar millers were at the summit with 74 points, three better than the bankers.

Kenya Sevens team was looking to turn around their poor run of form in the World Rugby Sevens Series after the appointment of Feeney in September 2019.  

Senior players return

The New Zealander, who won the World Cup with Fiji in 2005, guided a second string Morans to Safari Sevens victory stunning three-time World Rugby Sevens Series champions South Africa’s Blitzbokke 19-14 on October 20, last year at the RFUEA grounds.

The ground shifted when 16 senior Kenya Sevens players, who had boycotted the previous season over a pay cut, returned to the fold.

The World Series’ second placed all time highest try scorer Collins Injera, who has 279 tries, William Ambaka, Nelson Oyoo, Billy Odhiambo, Dan Sikuta and Eden Agero trooped back to the team. Injera, who later injured his shoulder during the Safari Sevens semi-finals, trails England’s Dan Norton who has scored the most tries in the World Series at 354.

Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) with support from Kenya Breweries Limited, among other sponsors, were able to sort out the thorny issues of players’ salaries, and all seems fine.

But Feeney seemed to struggle to craft a winning side and formula as his Kenya Sevens charges blew hot and cold.  The coach tried different formations with a high turnover of players in every leg of the World Rugby Series.
Questions were raised concerning the team’s strength and conditioning. with players like Odhiambo and Ambaka struggling to find form.

The teams was in the spotlight as it wobbled and flopped through the Series, despite the return of all the key players.
As the Covid-19 cases around the world surged, World Rugby was forced to end the Series. The Singapore, Hong Kong, England and France legs were cancelled.

Kenya finished 12th in the standings with 35 points after six legs, having reached two Main Cup quarter-finals in the Cape Town and Hamilton legs.  

New Zealand were declared the champions after collecting 115 points in the Series. They won the Cape Town, Hamilton and Vancouver legs,  defending champions South Africa  were  second with 104 points with wins in Dubai and Los Angeles.

Kenya’s only good performance was in Cape Town where the team reached the quarter-finals, having beaten among other teams, South Africa 36-14.  The team finished 13th in Dubai, having won only one match against Scotland in the play-off,  Feeney’s charges were eighth in Hamilton and last in Sydney.

Kenya Sevens lost to Scotland 12-7 in the ninth place semi-final to collect six points and finish 12th in Vancouver, just a week after they also lost to the Scottish side in sudden death 29-24 to finish 14th and collect three points during the Los Angeles Sevens.

With rugby activities having been halted in the country, Feeney went back to his home country New Zealand. Frustrations stemming from lack of long-term investment in Kenya Sevens team pushed Feeney resign less than a year into his job.

A statement from KRU on June 12 indicated that Feeney had resigned as Technical Director by mutual consent.

Feeney, who had already returned to New Zealand, had apparently left the role at the end of April owing to what KRU said was “uncertainty around the Covid-19 situation and the need to be at home with his family in New Zealand”.

Feeney had been appointed Kenya Sevens head coach in September last year and handed a three-year contract.

Under his management, Kenya Sevens won the 2019 Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens in Johannesburg, South Africa, to secure qualification to the 32nd Olympic Games which will now take place in Tokyo, Japan  next year.

On September 8, former 15s and Kenya Sevens captain Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu made a return to the 7s team as head coach, replacing Feeney. Simiyu, who had earlier handled the team in 2016 and 2017, was unveiled after a push and pull within KRU board on who should have been appointed between him and former international Dennis “Ironman” Mwanja.

Kenya Sevens coach Innocent Simiyu addresses the media during a past event.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Simiyu reappointed

Simiyu, 37, captained Kenya Sevens between 2006 and 2008 and the Kenyan 15s side in 2008 to 2011. In the World Rugby Sevens Series, Simiyu played in 121 matches scoring 321 points.

He was first appointed as head coach of Kenya Sevens on October 17, 2016 on a two-year contract, replacing Benjamin Ayimba.

After the Kenya Cup season was halted owing to the virus, KRU declared that there will be no Kenya Cup winner for the 2019/2020 season. However, the KRU Championship play-off will be played before the new season starts to know which team will be promoted.

By finishing first and second, respectively, in the Kenya Cup regular season, Kabras Sugar and KCB Rugby secured direct places to the semi-finals.

Homeboyz were to meet Menengai Oilers in the play-off with the winners expected to face KCB in the semi-finals while Kabras Sugar were to wait for the winner between Impala Saracens and Mwamba.

Western Bulls and Kisumu were relegated to the KRU Championship next season.  

Strathmore Leos topped the KRU Championship unbeaten with 76 points followed by Masinde Muliro University with 67 points. The Leos were to face the winner between Northern Suburbs and United States International University in one of the semi-final.

Masinde Muliro would have met the winner between Mean Machine from the University of Nairobi and Egerton Wasps.

The KRU Championship playoffs were rescheduled for this month but it seems that won’t happen because the government has not opened high risk contact sports like rugby to restart after the pandemic.

Among the highlights inthe season was Kabras Sugar finally claiming the scalp of KCB Rugby for the first time by winning 19-6 in a rain-drenched Kenya Cup match on November 30 last year at the Den, Ruaraka.

A brace of tries from Ugandan international prop Asuman Mugerwa and another try from Fijian winger Timosi Sinaite was enough to give Kabras Sugar victory in the duel that was abandoned in the 60th minute owing to the rains.

The only other good attempt by Kabras against the bankers heading into the pulsating battle was the 15-15 draw back in 2016 in Kakamega. KCB Rugby had, in the previous season, beaten Kabras Sugar 23-15 last year May to lift the Kenya Cup in Kakamega.

Kabras Sugar’s South African coach Henley Du Plessis had not registered a win against Kabras since taking over in 2018. Du Plessis has since resigned and Zimbabwean Mzingaye Nyathi is the new coach.

Kenya Harlequin and Nondescripts had a poor run, finishing ninth and 10th, respectively, in the 12-team league. In one of their low moments, Quins blew away a 19-0 lead at the break to lose to minnows Western Bulls 21-19 at the RFUEA.  Quins’ coach Dominique Habimana has since resigned and Belgian Antoine Plasman took over. Black Blad upset Impala 20-17 at the Impala Sports Club and the stunning win helped them avoid relegation, finishing eighth.

Enterprise Cup

The Enterprise Cup also failed to end, having reached the semi-finals stage. Defending champions Kabras Sugar were to take on Homeboyz while Impala Saracens were up against KCB Rugby.

On a sad note, several players passed away including legendary Andy Cobb, Kenya Simbas and KCB Rugby fullback Tony Onyango and former Kenya Sevens and Kenya Harlequin winger Allan “Malala Sibwor” Makaka.

The curtains fell on Cobb, aged 80, on October 19 in Cape Town, South Africa. Onyango, 28, collapsed and died on March 2 in his house in Ngong. Makaka, 37, died following a grisly road accident on Mombasa Road on May 23.

Another former KCB Rugby Club, Homeboyz and Kabras Sugar player, Sebastian Shiboka, also died on August 4 in Kakamega County.

Others are Quins’ Ian Waraba and Mohammed Fwamba from Webuye.

sayodi@ke.nationmedia.com

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