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Rugby: Namcos ready to help Shujaa revive lost glory

RUGBY By Rodgers Eshitemi | September 9th 2020
Coach Innocent Simiyu during squad naming ceremony at RFUEA Grounds, Nairobi on Nov 24, 2017. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Former Kenyan international Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu has sealed a return to coaching after almost two years in the cold following his re-appointment as Kenya Sevens rugby team boss yesterday.

Simiyu, 37, who has been handed a two-year contract by the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) succeeding New Zealander Paul Feeney, was fired in 2018 after taking full responsibility of the embarrassing Paris Sevens sponsorship debacle that saw players blank out sponsor’s (Brand Kenya) branding mage on their jerseys.

His sacking happened barely a few months after the former national Sevens and 15s team had led Shujaa to its highest ever points haul of 104 (8th position) at the World Sevens Series in the 2017/2018 season.

The former Impala coach’s last national team assignment was at the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco, USA.

But after nearly two years on the sidelines, Simiyu got back his job via a Zoom meeting yesterday morning ahead of three other candidates; Paul Murunga (former Shujaa coach and player), Dennis Mwanja (former Shujaa player) and United Kingdom’s Nick Wakley.

The interviewing panel comprising KRU acting CEO Thomas Odundo, former Shujaa coach Paul Feeney and World Rugby High Performance consultant Peter Harding settled on Simiyu after four months of searching.

Namcos’ predecessor, Feeney, parted ways with the union on a mutual consent in April after clinching the 2019 African Sevens title and guiding Shujaa to a 12th place in the cancelled season of the 2019/2020 World Sevens Series.

And with the backing of the union, the 2019/2020 season having been cancelled and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games postponed to next year (July 23-August 8) due to the coronavirus pandemic, Simiyu is ready to put the Paris incident behind him and help the team restore its lost glory.

“I’m happy to get another chance to serve the nation as the head coach. I know the task is quite big and the challenges are there but I will endeavor to do the best and ensure the players give their best to the nation,” said Simiyu.

“I think Kenya is a powerhouse in Sevens rugby and there is a lot of potential both from the young and experienced players. My task right now is to assemble the best team that can represent the country.”

“The Paris leg left a very big scar on us. I apologise for what happened and I think it wasn’t the best way to air our grievances. I took full responsibility as head of the program. But I believe the only way of handling such issues in sports is by having proper communication.”

Despite their past incidents, KRU chairman Geoffrey Gangla Oduor is confident Simiyu, who will have a free hand in appointing members of his technical bench, will succeed again on his second tenure as the national team head coach.

“We are quite excited to make this announcement today and from the board we wish to congratulate Innocent Simiyu on his new role. He’s not a stranger to this position because he did a very good job in the two years that he was here. He emerged top of the interviewing process and he’s unanimously recommended by the panels as the best candidate for the job,” said Gangla.

“It is obvious public knowledge that our past engagement with Innocent didn’t end well with him obviously because of the Paris incident which remains topical in many people’s mind. But we have all looked back at the whole incident and how it was managed; I think there have been a lot of lessons taken by both sides to ensure that we can manage such challenges in future. So, we are quite confident and comfortable to hand this responsibility to Innocent and that he will do the jersey and country proud.”

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