Special from Charles Ouko in Kenya
Despite having their worst possible start to any HSBC World 7's series in recent times, Kenya is determined and sure of bouncing back in Wellington and, especially in front of their rabid USA fans at the USA 7s in Las Vegas February 10-12 (www.usasevens.com ).
Even in their worst of times, Kenya has always been able to pull something out of the bag whenever they play in the USA. Kenya will be making their 9th consecutive appearance in USA 7s, much to the delight of their vocal and passionate support base.
Las Vegas is the exact half way point in the 2011/12 season, and will be a key time for Kenya, whose start in the first three tournaments can only be described as woeful.
With new head coach Mitch Ocholla, 35, taking over from Benjamin Ayimba, 37, the team had to do without many of its old hands and heads due to unavoidable circumstances.
Speaking to Rugbymag in Nairobi, as the team trained in preparation for legs 4 and 5, Ocholla said the loss of captain Humphrey Kayange, plus the unavailability of at least five other core players, “meant that I embarked on my national team duties with the onerous task of having to rebuild the team from scratch."
Core players who did not travel to the three opening legs were rugged forwards Victor Oduor, 29, and Ben Nyambu, 25, and backs Lavine Asego, 28, Bika Dema, 23, (both flyhalves) and team flyer Collins Injera, 25.
Lavine and Nyambu were held back by job commitments while Oduor, Injera and Biko were all sitting their final university exams.
Kenya only managed two victories in the opening three legs and endured painful losses to Zimbabwe in both Dubai and South Africa.
In Gold Coast, Kenya scored 50 points and conceded 85 in total, but that deficit got worse; in Dubai it was 86 for and 155 against. In South Africa Kenya scored 55 and conceded 159.
But the good news for Kenya's very supportive fans in the US is that all five players are back in training, fit and available to travel should they make coach Ocholla's final cut.
Kayange, Kenya's most prolific and outstanding player, has just joined the University of Bristol in England for his post-graduate studies.
Captain in both word and deed, his scoring of crucial tries, winning restart ball and setting up try-scoring moves, makes his departure from the team one of those almost irreplaceable losses.
But the presence of a front five consisting of Oduor, Nyambu, power man Andrew Amonde, 27, new kid Dennis Ombachi, 21, and Nakuru RFC's Oscar Ouma, 22, should allow Kenya to hold their ground in Las Vegas.
Ouma, in particular, is cause for great optimism as he has shown in only his second season on the World Series circuit .A tireless worker and rugged yet skillful loose forward, he has a potentially very bright rugby future ahead of him.
The return of Injera is huge, as he is the biggest Kenyan star in the Series, and was 5th among all players last season with 29 tries. He will be a big part of Kenya’s bid to maintain their solid record in the USA.
Twice, Kenya has come just one game short of making the Cup Final in the USA, in 2008 and 2010. Both times they were stopped by New Zealand. In the 2009 tournament Kenya played one of their most notable games, beating New Zealand 24-7. However they lost to the Kiwis in the Plate Final that same tournament.
In the last season, Kenya played Samoa in the Plate final and lost 15-26.
Ocholla hopes the return of some experienced players plus the support of the Kenyan fans will produce some good results in Las Vegas.
“Not only do I have by core players all available for selection, but further the seven-week break from South Africa, and the opportunity to fine-tune in Wellington the week before, means that you our great fans in the US, can undoubtedly look forward to a memorable weekend.”