What A Season!
What a season it has been for the Kenya sevens, after ten tournaments in ten different cities in seven months the team returns their 2017/18 score card with 104 points, the highest points tally in the team’s history, making this the best season for the Kenya sevens, ever.
Those 104 points came off 7 cup quarter final appearances, two of which resulted in cup finals, one challenge trophy and two 13th place finishes, on average the team picked 10 series points per tournament. Over the ten legs the team scored a total of 1,113 points an average of 111.3 points a tournament and 19.8 points or three tries a match.
Just to put this season into perspective, at the end of the 2016/17 season, we finished the season 63 points after ten legs, an average of 6 series points a tournament, with only two appearances at the Cup quarter finals. At the end of our favourite season (2015/16) we had 98 points, 9.8 on average, off a more similar return of 7 cup quarter final appearances and that win in Singapore.
This season we recorded a 54% win rate, winning 30 of the 56 matches played, losing 24 and drawing twice.
So what made us tick this season? First on the surface was we hit a form of consistency, after a 5th place semi final in Dubai and a 13th place finish in Capetown, the side went on a six tournament run of Cup quarter final appearances, among those were the two cup finals in Vancouver and Hong Kong.
The major difference between 2015/16 and this season is that in 2015/16 we were either real good or real bad, there was almost no middle ground. A Challenge trophy semi final, 13th place semi final and a 13th place finish in 2015/16 compared to a Challenge trophy and two 13th place finished this season. We sort of had a middle ground this year, when things weren’t going our way, we managed to salvage something.
On the grass though, this season we were on a different level, while we always knew that we were physically imposing, it is how we utilized this physical advantage that made the difference. We polished on how and when we took the ball in contact, adding the offloading option that worked like a charm.
Our success however boiled down to one major thing, our dominance at the breakdown, it never mattered whose ball it was, ‘Yao ilikua ka yetu..,’ on our day, we were virtually unplayable. It is especially how we set up in defense to attack the opposition ball that was impressive. By the time we were playing in Hong Kong, Kenya had 32 steals or an 11% turn over rate, the highest in the series, I doubt that those numbers have changed.
What turn overs do is they mean you get ball with the opposition still set up to attack, rushing back to set up defensively, thus making it that much easier to score.
While this was a collective effort from all the 20 players that took to the pitch this season, there are several players who were particularly instrumental for us.
The first Oscar Ouma, who got picked to the 2018 world rugby dream team, double O played like a man who had a point to prove and prove it he did. He was a monster out there and rarely placed a foot wrong this season, his work at the breakdown was monumental, you could clearly feel his absence in London and Paris.
Collins Injera keeps aging like fine wine, rather whiskey, this was probably one of his best seasons after that 09 one, he was not only scoring tries (he scored 27 this season) but his experience over the years clearly showed, popping up in the right areas both in attack and defence, el paps was the true papa of this team.
Willy Ambaka, when he was not slapping peoples faces on the way to the try line, he was putting the hard work at the break down and plucking kick offs from the air. He finished the season as our top try scorer with 31 tries to his name and more impressively played 54 of the 56 matches we played this season.
Samuel Oliech, he finally came good, after a couple of start stop seasons, you could clearly see that he hard put in the work especially physically where he was never afraid to take the ball into contact, more importantly is that his play and decision making has matured, making the right calls as when to attack the line or offload.
Jeff Oluoch, by far the revelation of the season, like Oliech he had a couple of start stop seasons, but in this one he finally introduced the world to the Jeffrey show. It should be illegal to be that big and that fast, he seemed to enjoy his role as one of the team’s sledge hammers, never shying away from taking the ball into contact.
Nelson Oyoo, Oyoo got wheels but more importantly, he got the tackle, while his diminutive structure might fool many, Oyoo is one of the most solid tacklers on that pitch for Kenya. What makes him stand out is he has the right technique and is being on the wing means he is positioned at the right areas for our style of play. He played a very key role in this department, as we always seemed to contest the rucks on either wings, which gave us more room to attack on the counter.
Eden Agero, we have for a long while cried for a creator and I finally think Eden has stood up to fill that gap. He always seemed to make things happen when he had ball in hand, probing for gaps and releasing runners, he was a beauty to watch. His kicking was also quite impressive off the restart (kick off) where he finished 10th with 87 successful restarts.
Billy Odhiambo, though he missed the first four legs of the season through injury, the now grown up kid wasted little time in showing just how vital he is in the squad. Hitting a crescendo in London where he jointly picked up the DHL Impact player award after making 12 tackles, 9 line breaks, 5 offloads and 20 ball carries.
Andrew Amonde, while most may not see his work forthright he is almost like the grim reaper of the side, his work at the breakdown is among the best, not only in this team but in the series. He never misses the opportunity to square it out on the floor with anyone and has a similar approach with ball in hand.
I could go about each and every member of that squad,the more experienced figures of team captain Oscar Ayodi, Dan Sikuta, Augustine Lugonzo, Brian Tanga, Dennis Ombachi, Frank Wanyama and the likes of Ian Minjire, Samuel Ngethe, Arthur Owira, Herman Humwa and Erick Ombasa all who were great when called upon and were testament to the depth that is being built in this squad.
I’ll leave you with one interesting stat, for all the stick we give the team for not being able to convert their tries, they scored 109 conversions from 179 tries (60%), finishing 7th on the overall log, leaders Fiji had 173 from 253 (68%). We are not as badly off as you thought huh?
All this work was down to a band of five gentlemen who made sure the team was ready in every aspect to compete, led by Ian Simiyu who seems to have finally settled into a rhythm with the team, his assistant William Webster. Geoffrey Kimani, the guy behind the team’s fitness, Lamech Bogonko, the team doctor and Eric Ogweno, the team manager.
Finally, in our true Kenyan character, especially in this sport, we always seem to find a way to mess things up when they start getting good. To everyone concerned, it would be very nice if that didn’t happen this time round, thank you.
Once again, a big congratulations to the team for a stellar season, can’t wait to see you guys at the World cup and later on finally playing at home during the Safari sevens.