Kenya Sevens chase Paris Olympics ticket in Zimbabwe

Kenya Shujaa’s Collins Shikoli sprints past Samuel Ekpo of St 7s Nigeria during the 23rd Edition 2021 Safari 7s tournament at The Nyayo National stadium on Saturday, Oct 31, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The national rugby sevens team, Shujaa, will on Saturday begin their journey of hunting a ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games alongside 12 other nations as Harare Sports Club hosts the 2023 Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens in Zimbabwe.

Kenya and South Africa have appeared at both Olympic men’s sevens tournaments since rugby’s reintroduction to the Games at Rio 2016, but they will face tough competition in Zimbabwe where 10 other teams have their sights set on glory.

Algeria won the qualifying tournament in Mauritius in June to secure their place in Harare alongside Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, who finished second and third respectively.

They will be joined on Saturday’s start line by hosts Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Tunisia, Zambia, Namibia, Uganda and Burkina Faso.

Whoever emerges victorious from the two-day tournament will take their place in Paris next year alongside the already qualified men’s teams of France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland and USA.

The dream will not be over for the runners-up or the winners of the third-place play-off, either, with both qualifying for the Olympic repechage tournament.

Kenya keen to maintain proud record

Five-time winners Kenya have been drawn in Group B in Harare, alongside Zambia, Namibia and Nigeria, and will hope to put the disappointment of missing out on SVNS qualification behind them to reach a third Games.

The Shujaa were beaten by Canada in the final of the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 Play-off at Twickenham in May, but coach Kevin Wambua is confident his side has what it takes to complete a hat-trick of Olympic appearances.

Wambua has been able to recall Vincent Onyala, who returns as co-captain alongside Tony Omondi, as part of an experienced squad.

“The primary goal is to perform strongly in the pool stage and secure a top position by the end of day one, ultimately advancing to the quarter-finals,” Wambua said.

“The squad is determined and believes they have what it takes to excel in the competition.”

[Additional reporting by World Rugby]

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