Kenya Shujaa bounce back to World Rugby Sevens Series

Rugby 7s

Kenya’s John Okoth cuts through the Spain defense on day one of the HSBC SVNS Grand Final at Stadium Civitas Metropolitano on 31 May 31, 2024 in Madrid, Spain.

Photo credit: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

What you need to know:

  • Kenya Rugby Union chairman Sasha Mutai said the qualification is a result of hard work.
  • Team captain Vincent Onyala thanked everyone who believed and trusted in the team.

Kenya Sevens are back at the World Rugby Sevens Series.

Kenyans broke into song and dance in Madrid and locally after Shujaa touched down five tries and four conversions to dismantle Germany 33-15 in the relegation and play-off duel in the Spanish capital.

“Welcome back Kenya, we have missed you!” said World Rugby on their social media pages.

It was a battle of resilience as Shujaa braved a poor start and one-man disadvantage in the first half, turning around their fortunes with good defence and open play. 

Vincent Onyala, Chrisant Ojwang, John Okoth, George Ooro, and Kevin Wekesa bludgeoned through a try each as Anthony Mboya added the extras to send Kenya back to the series after a season in the cold.

It’s Chris Umeh, who completed a good flow with a try on the left corner that went unconverted before Shujaa turned in the style as Onyala touched down. Mboya converted as Shujaa took charge 7-5 only for Ojwang to be sin-binned for infringement.

Kenya Sevens players celebrate their qualification for the 2025 HSBC World Rugby Sevens season after beating Germany 33-15 in the World Rugby Sevens Series play-offs in Madrid on June 2, 2024.

Shujaa held on the Germans with good defence but it capitulated for Niklas Koch to score for the Germans to lead 10-5.

However, Ojwang returned from the sin-bin with a bang, tearing through the wing after being put through by Samuel Asati to score and even Mboya missed to convert Kenya's lead 12-10 at the break.

Onyala would latch on the kick-off loose ball to feed Okoth with a telling cross before he went flying through the poles to score. Mboya added the extras to stretch the lead to 19-10.

There was some flash of brilliance from Germany, who had beaten Kenya twice in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series. Maximilian Heid brought them back into the game with a try to reduce the deficit at 19-15 only for Kenya to go loose and wild with the ball.

Substitute Brain Tanga set up Ooro from the maul to go flying between the posts as Wekesa collected a loose ball after the German defence fumbled with the ball to score.

Mboya was good with his boots as the buzzer went to elicit celebrations from the players and Kenyan fans to bring back the memories from the 2016 Singapore Sevens where Kenya won the leg.

Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) chairman Sasha Mutai said the qualification is a result of hard work from several key movers in the game from last year starting with the players, technical bench, union, the government and sponsors.

“We put the right people at the technical bench through merit and that is why player selection was also on merit. There is no good luck at the top level,” said Mutai, adding that regaining the core status will not only improve the standards of players but also the Safari Sevens.

“There are no shortcuts in high performance and that is why I want to thank the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, the government and Sportpesa for the support,” explained Mutai.

Safari Sevens

Mutai said that top teams will now grace the Safari Sevens ahead of the World Series in December. " But first things first, we must prepare well for medal contention at the Paris Olympic Games," said Mutai.

Mutai hailed Kenya Sevens coach Kevin “Bling” Wambua for the transformation in the team.

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.

Wambua took over from Damian McGrath, who was fired in August last year before his contract came to an end after the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Unlike his predecessors, who had the luxury of a long-term contract, Wambua’s team was given a four-month contract that Sasha Sasha, who had just been elected KRU chairman, described as a “transition period.”

It was left to be known if Wambua, who is conversant with the intrigues in Kenya Sevens team management, would survive for long considering the revolving door that is Kenya Sevens coaching job.

McGrath's exit saw the high turnover of coaches at the Kenya Sevens team continues with the job having now changed 12 times since 2010.

Wambua took over at a time when Kenya Sevens and the country was at its lowest ebb after the team was relegated from the World Rugby Sevens Series for the first time in 23 years.

Top players

He came at a time when some of the country’s top players handed their boots almost the same time singling for Collins Injera, William Ambaka and Billy Odhiambo who called it quits last year. Others who retired before their prime age are Eden Agero, Bush Mwale, Augustine Lugonzo, Oscar Ouma and Oscar Ayodi among others.

However, Wambua confounded many when he guided his young team which had only three senior players to Africa Cup victory, shocking South Africa’s Blitzboks 17-12 in the final in Zimbabwe in September last year.

That victory saw them qualify for the Paris Olympic Games, the third consecutive time they will participate in the Olympics Summer Games.

They would then retain Safari Sevens, beating Samurai Barracudas 19-0, the final that saw the rise of Patrick Odongo, a student from Daystar University, who scored a brace of tries.

Co-captains Vincent Onyala and Anthony Omondi, and Herman Humwa were the only senior players in the team with the latest retirement of Collins Injera, William Ambaka and Billy Odhiambo last year among others.

That performance was enough to see Wambua's tenure as the coach extended to 2026.

Wambua’s next assignment was the World Rugby Challenger Series where they emerged second with 48 points behind Uruguay with 56 points.

Kenya Sevens launched their campaign in the three-legged series in Dubai, beating Chile 12-5 in the final. They then finished third in the second leg in Montevedio, Uruguay, once again edging out Chile 31-12 in the playoffs.

Kenya settled fifth in the final leg in Munich, Germany but had already done the work to finish in the top four and qualify for the promotion and relegation play-off in Madrid. 

Kenya Sevens earned their first call for the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2000/2001 season before becoming the core team in the 2004/2005 season.