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Triumphant Shujaa shift focus to Paris Olympics

Rugby
 Sports PS Peter Tum join Kenya Shujaa Rugby team at JKIA after qualifying for the 2025 HSBC World Rugby Series by partcipating in the fourth leg of the challenger series held in Spain. June 4, 2024. [Jona Onyango, Standard]

National sevens rugby team, Shujaa, have scripted a remarkable comeback story by securing promotion back to the World Rugby Sevens Series.

On Tuesday, traditional dancers electrified the mood at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport where upon arrival, the jubilant squad engaged in light dances that brought the terminal to a standstill.

Their triumphant return to the top was sealed over the weekend with a convincing 33-15 victory against Germany in a crucial promotion and relegation playoff match held in Madrid, Spain.

The win not only marks a significant milestone for the team but also reinstates Kenya’s presence in the top tier of global rugby sevens after being in the cold for a year.

The match saw stellar performances from key players led by co-captain Vincent Onyala, Kevin Wekesa, George Ooro, John Okoth, and Chrisant Ojwang who all crossed the try line.

This victory is particularly poignant considering the team's relegation in 2023, ending a two decade-long spell in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

The road back has been arduous, but the leadership of new head coach Kelvin Wambua and a rejuvenated squad has been instrumental in this revival.

Speaking after jetting back into the country, Wambua was effusive in his praise for the team.

“Congratulations to the players. They are the heroes of this story, and we are just here to offer guidance,” Wambua said, highlighting the collective effort and camaraderie that underpinned their success.

“Brotherhood helped us. Taking care of each other on and off the pitch. That helped us stay focused amongst ourselves in the team. It was a well-deserved result for Kenya, especially coming with the circumstances we faced.”

The success is not just a return to the sport's elite; it has broader implications for the players, the technical bench, and the entire Kenyan rugby fraternity. For the players, this victory is a testament to their hard work, resilience, and unyielding spirit.

Captain Onyala, reflecting on the journey, emphasized the collective effort and external support that fueled their success.

“It was a collective input by the team. We gave our all and through the support we received from the government, sponsors, and our fans, they made it possible. The dream is still alive and we are happy to return Kenya amongst the best 12 global rugby sevens teams,” said the KCB star.

Wambua credited co-captains Anthony Omondi and Onyala for their leadership, which helped the younger players settle in and play with vigor and confidence.

This blend of experienced heads and fresh talent has created a dynamic team capable of competing at the highest level.

The promotion also brings back crucial monetary incentives from World Rugby, which had been lost following their relegation. Kenya Rugby Union will now start receiving the annual grant of PS300,000 (Sh53.6m) given to core teams and PS150,000 (Sh26.8m) development grant from World Rugby which they had lost last year after relegation.

These funds are vital for the development and sustenance of rugby in Kenya, providing better training facilities, support staff, and resources necessary to compete internationally.

Looking ahead, the team’s focus shifts to the upcoming Paris Olympic Games in Paris.

“Up next, we dare to dream again ahead of the Olympics. The boys are going off rugby for now before we come back again. This was a teamwork well executed, and we will enjoy the victory for now,” said Wambua.

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