Bold Kenya Sevens Shujaa battle for Olympics slot

By Clement Wekulo: Friday, November 8th 2019 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Rugby
Kenya Rugby Sevens's Morans' Joel Nzuga (left) and South Africa's Andrew Kota fight it out during Safari Sevens at Rugby Football Union Grounds on Sunday, Oct 20, 2019. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

As the Africa Sevens-cum-2020 Olympic qualifier starts in South Africa today, the Kenya men’s national team is looking to emulate their women counterparts by booking a slot at the summer games.

The winner of the 14-team tournament, which will be played at the Bosman Stadium in Johannesburg, will secure direct qualification to the quadrennial event slated for Tokyo, Japan between July and August, next year.

Silver and bronze medallists will be handed a second chance by competing in a repechage showpiece alongside countries from other regions.

Kenya’s Shujaa fancy their chances since South Africa, the continent’s best side, are exempted from the regional qualifiers having made it to the Olympics courtesy of a top four finish during the 2018-19 World Sevens Series.

Fiji, USA  and New Zealand are the other teams that booked their tickets via that route.

Speaking to Standard Sports in an earlier interview, Shujaa coach Paul Feeney was categorical they intend to qualify directly to avoid heading to the repechage tournament where opponents from Europe, Asia, Oceania and South America might be a hard nut to crack.

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Feeney, who also doubles up as the Kenya Rugby Union Technical Director, named a strong squad for the South African assignment with Mwamba RFC’s Billy Odhiambo making a return after spending one year out.

The Africa Sevens, scheduled to conclude tomorrow, has adopted a new format with the 14 teams now expected to negotiate first round fixtures before heading to the pool stage.

Winners of the first round matches, together with one best loser, will occupy pools A and B from where they will compete for the Main Cup while losers will be placed in pools C and D to battle for the Challenge Trophy.

Shujaa launch their quest against Ivory Coast at 10:22am and a likely win over the West Africans will see them proceed to pool B while defending champions Zimbabwe will be in pool A if they dismiss Nigeria.

“We have done our part and are looking forward to the Olympic qualifiers. It is something we have been working hard for and we are ready to put our best foot forward,” Shujaa captain Andrew Amonde said before the team’s departure.

Kenya are seeking to return to the Olympics having qualified in 2016 after beating Zimbabwe through a last-minute try by Denis Ombachi.

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