We Made It To The Promised Land
It was not a drill, it is not a dream, we finally made it to the promised land. After 17 long years, 142 grueling tournaments later, we can finally say Kenya sevens are champions.
I can not go on any further without acknowledging the people who lay the foundation, that resulted in what we all saw yesterday. The gentlemen in that Watembezi Pace setters squad that played in the 1982 Dubai Sevens, with the likes of Max Muniafu, Joe JJ Masiga, Beth Omollo. Those who won the Dubai 7s ‘open tournament’ the following year beating New Zealand.
To the class of 1990 at the Singapore 7s, especially that man, the eagle, Edward Rombo. The class of 92 which first attempted to qualify for the world series, to the class of 96 that played the first Safari 7s, going on to win in 97 under Ham Onsando. To the 1998 side at the Middlesex 7s, the 10,000 pounds boys, who played at the Common Wealth games.
That side had the likes of Charles Cardovilis, Benjamin Ayimba (see how fitting that he was the man to take us to the promised land?), Philip Mwenesi, Dennis the iron man Mwanja, Sydney the black rose Obonyo, Oscar Osir, Lucas Onyango among others (When you get time ask one of them about a certain 125 dollar tour later on). To the 99 class that first played in the world series, under Michael ‘Tank’ Otieno.
To the class of 2001, that qualified for the sevens world cup at the RFUEA, with the likes of Paul Pablo Murunga, Sammy Khakame and Paul Odera who beat France 12-7 at the world cup.
The 2003 class that made us dream, with wins against Wales and Australia, and become a core side the following year.To 2005 when we won the African title to qualify for the world cup in Hong Kong. Here you had the likes of Allan Makaka, Sydney Ashioya, Edwin Shimenga (who to date, many still considered the hardest man to have put on a Kenya 7s shirt) Ted Omondi and Newton Ongalo (current TM).
To the fans that campaigned for Kenya to play at the USA sevens in 2005, after the side had been left out. To that class of 2007 to 2009 that made us all believers, under Benjamin Ayimba. When we were introduced to the likes of Humphrey Kayange, Lavin Asego, Collins Injera, Victor Oduor, Inoocent Simiyu, the late Joshua Gathumbi, Biko Adema, Allan Onyango, Brian Nyikuli to name a few.
In 2009 Kenya reached 7 semi finals and the first cup final ever in the world series at Adelaide Australia. Then at the World cup, Kenya beat Fiji in that memorable quarter final, finishing 4th after losing the semi to Argentina. To the Mitch Ocholla era in 2010-11 where we took a real pounding but still grabbed some valuable lessons, with the likes of Michael Wanjala, Oscar Ouma, Ken Moseti, Philip Wamae introduced to the world series.
To 2012 and that man Mike Friday who again made us believers, alongside a man who should be taking home all the accolades for this period, Chris Brown. We finished 5th in the world series, beating the likes of New Zealand in Wellington, making a cup final in the same leg. More importantly though we again made it to a World cup semi final, had it not been for the that mysterious rain…
The likes of William Ambaka, Oscar Ouma, Andrew Amonde and Collins Injera were now house hold names, mentioned in the same breathe with the DJ Forbes, Cecil Afrika, Tomasi Cama and Joji Ragamate.
To Paul Treu and Felix Ochieng whose tenures were marked by more off field occurrences than on field, this was however a revolutionary phase where a lot of the young blood we see today was introduced. The likes of Motari (who is probably the luckiest man in the world), Augustine Lughonzo among others.
To the present day champions, with Ayimba back at the helm, assisted by Paul Murunga, Newton Ongalo, Geoffrey Kimani and Lamech Bongoko. Who brought with them rising stars in Samuel Oliech, Robert Aringo, Nelson Oyoo, Jeff Oluoch, Don Oluoch, Geoffrey Ominde, Brian Tanga, Alvin Otieno, Frank Wanyama and a host of others.
The weekend was a culmination of the efforts and dedication of diligent servants of this game through out all those years, people who gave their all so we can experience what we did yesterday. To them, I don’t have enough salutes, your efforts shall not be forgotten.
Singapore, was a ‘written in the stars’ kind of weekend, after literally sneaking in to the cup quarter finals on the back of one win from Pool C, we had the easier of draws, playing France on day 2. The French (more like Vakatawa) had narrowly beaten us 17-10 the previous weekend in Hong Kong at the Pool stages.
This time round however, the technical bench tweaked the right areas to see us beat the French 28-7 and proceed to the semi final. After what was probably the game of the series this season, between Fiji and South Africa, we took center stage to face Argentina in the second semi final. Last time we met Argentina, they blanked us 24-0, in the Sydney Plate final.
Again this time round, they met a different Kenya side, after a shaky first half where the Argentines took a 7-0 lead into the break it was our turn to roar. Augustine Lughonzo was on hand to level things at the start of the second half, with Oliech kicking in the extras. Argentina again took the lead against the run of play, picking up a lose ball to score and make it 12-7.
Second half substitute Frank Wanyama then showed a good turn of pace to level things up, which led to the moment I consider won us this tournament. Andrew Amonde had been a beast at the breakdown so far, as he has always been really. His exploits won us a penalty 40 or so meters out, the gong had already sounded, up stepped Collins Injera.
Moments earlier he had scuffed the conversion to Wanyama’s try from 20 or so meters out, on the right side of the pitch. This was a much harder kick, this time to the left of the posts. Many did not expect him to slot it in, this was just Kenya’s attempt at avoiding sudden death, they were going to fail anyway.
With one deep breath and the nerves of steel fresh from a blast furnace, he took the perfect drop kick, nailed the technique and with baited breathe we watched as the ball split the Singapore air with the grace and speed of an eagle. He took one glance at the projectile that was the ball and turned around clapping. The rest of us were still in awe, as the touch judges flags went up, Kenya were in the final.
Could this be it? We were meeting the revered Fijians, they had beaten South Africa in a way only they could do, and had done time and again especially here in Singapore. Could that journey to the promised land finally make its maiden landing here?
We had played Fiji three times so far this season, losing in all those occaasions. 28-12 in Sydney, 24-19 in Vancouver and 12-10 in Hong Kong, notice the trend? Fiji are the defending series champions, they had so far picked 3 legs out the 7 played. The odds were never on Kenya’s side.
It was not the win, rather how we won that really impressed. If you needed 20 minutes to describe how Kenya should play, there would be no better 20 than in that final.
We handled the restarts perfectly, Sammy Oliech reminded us of Lavin Asego at the kick off, got great distance, height and had the perfect weight for the likes of Willy Ambaka to pluck the ball from the air. On the ground, that man Andrew Amonde was devastating at ruck time, he gave them no peace.
We got off to the best of starts, the man who had butchered a try on day one against the Scotts, Oscar Ayodi opened our account inside the first minute. It was how we nullified a flamboyant Fiji side that made this win even sweeter, we hogged the ball and pinned Fiji in their territory for the whole first half.
A Collins Injera brace followed by a Sammy Oliech try just before the break saw us take a 20-0 lead into half time. Even at this point, most were still in doubt. We had watched Fiji crawl back from such deficits multiple times over, remember that one against New Zealand last season in a cup final?
Even at the half time team talk, Fiji did not look like a side under pressure, their coach Ben Ryan spoke confidently and surprisingly calmly to his charges. It was not yet beyond them. In the Kenya camp, Benjamin was also as cool and collected, Injera then delivered these words, ’10 minutes of our lives, do it for your country boys!’
Our fears were further compounded when Fiji got the first score of the second half, under the posts, to make it 20-7. They now needed three converted tries to take the lead. Unfortunately that was all they got in this one, Kenya defended resolutely when they didn’t have the ball, pressured the Fijians into error after error.
When Nelson Oyoo turned on the after burners to leave two Fijian defenders in his trail and go over for Kenya’s 5th try, in the 19th minute, we could not believe what we were seeing. Frank Wanyama then put the icing on the cake with the 6th try, one that he rightfully jigged to, making it 30-7 at the final gong.
There are moments in life that stop your heart for an instant, this was one of them, as the referee Richard Kelly blew for full time. I looked around to confirm that this was no dream, that indeed Kenya had won a cup final at the world series. Reality hit like a ton of bricks, amid numbing cheers and tears of joy. We had done it!
I looked at Zainabu’s (my laptop) small screen in disbelief as Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde, Humphrey Kayange, three gentlemen who have traveled this journey for quite a while and given more than anyone could have asked for, embrace in proud jubilation. The likes of Wanyama, Motari, Oliech, Ayodi, Ambaka uncontrollable in joy.
I watched Ayimba, Murunga, Ongalo, Bongoko and Kimani men who have worked under less than ideal conditions to deliver this moment, jump at each other like little kids. We had won a leg of the world series, after trying 114 times, failed, miserably at times, came close on 2 previous occasions, overcame all the odds, we had finally grabbed our seat at the table of greats.
As the cameras panned at the team on their knees in prayer, there was an overwhelming sense of pride that engulfed the nation. At this semi pro side that had probably delivered the biggest upset in world series history.
Thank you Kenya 7s, for that absolute stunner of a performance, thank you for the tireless hours you put in at training in the wee hours of the morning. Thank you for the selfless sacrifice you make to play this game and represent our land even without payment, thank you for toying with our emotions (sometimes at hours no man should be awake), making us feel things we couldn’t imagine a sport could make one feel. Thank you, for putting up with our ‘expert’ opinions on how to do what you train to do daily. Thank you for being you, the KENYA 7S! Here is to the start of another journey…