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AYIMBA KILLS THREE BIRDS WITH ONE STONE: Coach’s strategy finally pays off, with Rio ticket and now Singapore gong in the bag

RUGBY By Rodgers Eshitemi | April 20th 2016
RUGBY-SEVENS-KENYA Kenya rugby 7's team captain Andrew Amonde (C) holds the trophy aloft as he and teammates disembark from the plane upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport on April 19, 2016 near Nairobi, two days after Kenya pulled off a stunning 30-7 upset victory over Fiji in the final of the Singapore Sevens to capture their first World Series event. / AFP PHOTO

After his contested re-appointment as the Kenya Sevens team coach, Benjamin Ayimba decided to adopt a rotation policy. This, it now appears, may have yielded an unintended, but pleasant, surprise: a selection headache.

It may get even worse as the Rio Olympics get closer, since the IRB Sevens World Series has thrown in a set of highly motivated, skilful, confident, young and talented players.

The arrival of such talent as Samuel Oliech, Nelson Oyoo and Frank Wanyama has left the more senior players excited about Kenya’s prospects in World Sevens rugby.

Kenya rugby 7's team captain Andrew Amonde is cheered by the crowd upon the team's arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport on April 19, 2016 near Nairobi, two days after Kenya pulled off a stunning 30-7 upset victory over Fiji in the final of the Singapore Sevens to capture their first World Series event. / AFP PHOTO

“The future looks bright. The journey has been long and winding. It has taken several generations to win the IRB trophy. The youngsters coming through have shown that this thing can be done,” captain Andrew Amonde said.

Oscar Ouma, who missed the Hong Kong and Singapore legs, said the feeling among the country’s rugby players who did not make the squad for different reasons is: “Yes, we can do it.”

“I feel like I was with the team, even though I am nursing an injury. Everyone is celebrating. The youngsters in the team have done exceptionally well. The good thing is there will be no struggle filling the void should senior players exit the stage,” Ouma, a Nakuru RFC player, said.

When he was re-appointed in September last year amid protests from a section of Kenya Rugby Union directors, led by former vice chairman Phillip Jalang’o, Ayimba made Rio Olympics qualification his main objective.

His second brief was to improve Kenya’s position in the IRB standings, with the country having flirted with relegation towards the end of the 2014–15 HSBC Sevens World Series.

But with two legs to go (Paris and London), Ayimba seems to have already killed three birds with one stone.

First, he guided the Kenya Sevens team into booking its Olympics ticket in Rio after beating Zimbabwe in the qualifiers. And on Sunday, he was part of the historic victory in Singapore where Kenya claimed its first ever Main Cup title to leapfrog England to seventh place with 85 points.

But the least discussed of Ayimba’s recent achievements is his decision to debut young talent in major games. It takes some guts to do that as a national team head coach.

And Ayimba should be proud of bringing more than six new talents on to the World Sevens Rugby Series this season. Fortunately, his gamble to field them paid off. Shujaa have had at least a fresh face in each of the eight legs so far.

This generation of youngsters has been impressive in the series, scoring a couple of tries.

Ayimba started his campaign by handing the youthful quartet of Robert Aringo (Impala), Nelson Oyoo (Nakuru), Jeffrey Oluoch (Homeboyz) and Frank Wanyama (Harlequin) their World Series debuts after including them in his 12-member squad for the first two rounds of the World Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town last year.

Nakuru’s Donald Aluoch was called up for the third and fourth legs in Wellington and Sydney, before Impala utility back Samuel Oliech made it onto the team for the Las Vegas and Vancouver rounds.

Oliech, who scored three tries in his debut series, was retained in the squad for the Hong Kong and Singapore legs. Wanyama, Oyoo and Aringo were all then recalled to the team, which also included newcomer Alvin Otieno.

And with Biko Adema missing the Hong Kong leg due to injury, Samuel Motari came in as his replacement, though he is yet to make his debut.

Ayimba is actually laying a strong foundation on which Kenya can build an even stronger team even when the time comes for the likes of Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde and Humphrey Khayange to exit the field.

With players like Wanyama and Oyoo proving their mettle, the future of Kenyan rugby looks bright.

It now remains to be seen who will make the Brazil trip.

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