In the wake of a disappointing relegation from the World Rugby Sevens Series the previous season, Kenya Sevens team, Shujaa, now stands at a crossroads, ready to embark on a journey of redemption and Olympic dreams.
Their mission is to secure the sole automatic ticket to the Paris Olympics set for next year in France.
The stage is already set in Harare, Zimbabwe, where the 2023 Rugby Africa Sevens tournament kicks off today,
Drawn alongside Zambia, Namibia, and Nigeria in Group B, Shujaa face a daunting task of not only winning their preliminary matches but also capturing the overall title in a fiercely competitive tournament.
A significant obstacle looms in the form of the South African team, a multiple-time champion of the Sevens Series. Their remarkable track record presents a formidable challenge to Kenya's ambitions.
However, Shujaa has a newfound sense of determination under the guidance of newly appointed head coach Kevin Wambua. Wambua, an experienced mentor, brings a wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective to the team.
"Last season's relegation was a bitter pill to swallow," said Wambua.
"But we have used that disappointment as motivation to bounce back stronger. Our goal is clear: we are going for the Olympic ticket, and we believe in our ability to achieve it."
As the countdown to the tournament began, Shujaa intensified their preparations. The training sessions were marked by sheer dedication and resilience, as the players aimed to reach their peak performance levels in the Olympics qualification tournament.
Vincent Onyala, a star player from KCB, was chosen to lead the team as captain. His leadership qualities and on-field prowess made him the ideal choice to rally the team toward their shared goal.
"We have been working tirelessly to improve our game," remarked Onyala.
"We are a team that thrives under pressure, and we are fully committed to representing Kenya on the Olympic stage. Our belief in ourselves and our coach's guidance will be our driving force."
The anticipation among Kenyan rugby fans is palpable as the tournament starts. Harare is expected to witness an explosion of Kenyan support as Shujaa takes to the field with their sights set on qualifying for the Olympics for the second time in a row.
The challenge ahead is formidable, but Shujaa's journey is a testament to the resilience and spirit of Kenyan rugby. The team's quest for redemption and Olympic glory symbolises the never-give-up attitude that has become synonymous with Kenyan sports.
“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," said Wambua.
“The squad is determined and believes they have what it takes to excel in the competition."
As Shujaa take on Nigeria in their opening match today (11.06am), one thing is abundantly clear; they are a team with the skill, determination, and unwavering belief that they can overcome all obstacles.
They will then tackle Namibia at 1.50pm before locking horns with Zambia at 4.34pm.
Their ultimate goal is not just Olympic qualification but also to inspire a nation and make Kenya proud on the global stage again.
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 from the other ten teams.
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.