Shujaa: It's time to quench title thirst in Challenger Series

The Kenya Men's National 7s John Okoth during training ahead of the 2023 Rugby Africa 7s tournament to be hosted in Harare Zimbabwe during the naming of traveling squad at KRFUEA Ground on Sept 12, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

It's back to usual business for Kenya's national Sevens rugby team, Shujaa.

Playing in unfamiliar territory, the Kenyans are, nonetheless, ready for the task ahead.

Only that this time round, they will have to do business next week without their talisman Patrick Odongo.

Shujaa travels to Montevideo, Uruguay for the second leg of the HSBC Challenger Series.

Odongo is recovering from an injury he sustained during Daystar Falcons’ KRU Championship 39-12 victory against Kabarak University three weeks ago.

Odongo was instrumental for Kenya in January when he single-handedly dragged Shujaa to the finals of the first leg of the Challenger Series played in Dubai, scoring two tries in the match as Kenya narrowly edged out Chile 12-5 to win gold.

Furthermore, the Daystar University Falcons star topped the scoring charts in Dubai with 11 tries, a scoring machine Kevin ‘Bling’ Wambua must find a solution for as Kenya prepares to face Tonga, Georgia and Portugal in Group A.

In an effort to bridge the huge gap left by Odongo, Wambua has made five changes to the Shujaa team as he named three debutants; Lamec Ambetsa, Chrisant Ojwang and Elvis Olukusi. 

Dennis Abukuse and Ben Salem have made a return to the squad.

In Ambetsa, Shujaa will get the pace and trickery synonymous with Odongo, a trait the Kabras Sugar full-back has maintained during the Kenya Cup where he has scored eight tries and is among the top try scorers in the league only behind fellow teammate Derrick Ashiundu (11), Beldad Ogeta of Menengai Oilers and KCB’s Austin Sikutwa both with 10 tries.

Kabras Sugar speedy scrum-half Brian Tanga, who is recovering from illness, also misses out alongside Festus Shiasi, William Mwanji and Brian Mutugi.

Vincent Onyala and Tony Omondi retain their roles as co-captains, while Kevin Wekesa, John Okoth, George Ooro, Nygel Amaista, and Samuel Asati also maintain their positions.

Kenya 7s lead the competition standings after their impressive performance in Dubai, winning five out of six matches. 

With 20 points, Kenya 7s maintain a two-point lead over Chile in the standings, while Uruguay and Germany occupy the third and fourth spots, respectively.

Introduced in February 2020, the Challenger Series aims to promote the global development of rugby Sevens and establish a clear pathway to the top tier of global rugby sevens.

The top four men’s and women’s teams in the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 will have the opportunity to participate in a promotion and relegation play-off competition at the SVNS Grand Final in Madrid from May 31 to June 2, competing against teams ranked ninth to 12th from HSBC SVNS 2024.

Meanwhile, Japan-based Janet Okello returns for the women’s team, the Lionesses, after missing out on the opening leg in Dubai.

Okello, who replaced Diana Kemunto, is the only change to the side that finished second at the opening round in Dubai.

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