Kenya Sevens face challenging task in Hamilton leg
Following the scraping of Main Cup quarter-finals at this weekend’s Hamilton Sevens, there will be little room for error for Kenya’s Shujaa as they face England in their tournament opener tomorrow.
The match, scheduled for 2:45 am at the FMG Stadium in New Zealand, presents Paul Feeney’s charges with a perfect opportunity to avenge the 12-5 loss they suffered to the English when the two teams last clashed at the season-opening Dubai Sevens in December last year.
Kenya have their work cut out with the absence of quarter-finals meaning that only one team from each of the four pools will remain in contention for the title by advancing to the semi-finals.
The changes have seen the reintroduction of fifth-place and seventh-place playoffs which did not feature at the Dubai and Cape Town events.
Shujaa will also face invitational side Japan in their second pool B fixture before they wind up their preliminaries against series leaders South Africa on Sunday.
Kenya, who are 11th in the 2019-20 World Sevens Series standings with 15 points, face an English side that has beaten them 21 times in their last 26 meetings in the series. Four of those matches ended in draws with Shujaa’s earning last victory in the fixture at the 2018 Vancouver Sevens in Canada.
Unlike previously where teams got away with losing one match in the preliminaries, the removal of Main Cup quarter-finals will mean that teams must now win all their fixtures to guarantee progression.
“Our first fixture will be very important because it could decide how far we go. We have played South Africa before and we are already familiar with each other,” said Kenya Sevens forward Bush Mwale.
Mwale’s sentiments were echoed by fly-half Johnstone Olindi who said the change of format puts them under immense pressure to deliver.
“We have no otherwise but to top our pool which has very tough opposition,” Olindi said before Shujaa traveled to New Zealand.
The East Africans will bank on the return of their all-time leading try scorer Collins Injera, who, alongside the likes of William Ambaka and Andrew Amonde, are expected to lead a young squad that has one debutant in KCB’s Geoffrey Okwach.
Injera and Okwach’s inclusion are the only changes made to the team that did duty in Dubai and Cape Town. The two were summoned to replace the injured Oscar Denis and Jacob Ojee.
Injera, who had been sidelined with a shoulder injury, makes a comeback to the World Sevens Series for the first time since he featured at the 2018 Paris Sevens in France.
“I am excited getting Collins back in the mix. He’s obviously a very influential player. He trained the house down before the first series tournaments but he couldn’t go. It’s great to have him back with the boys,” said Feeney.
After the Hamilton Sevens, Shujaa will travel to Sydney in Australia next weekend for the fourth round of the 10-legged World Sevens Series.
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