How Shujaa overcame adversity to secure Olympic ticket

Kenya Sevens players drink water after training at RFUEA Ground. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In a narrative that could only be described as a testament to resilience, determination, and unwavering spirit, Kenya Sevens team defied all the odds to clinch the Rugby Africa Sevens title.

Their journey, marred by the disappointment of being relegated from the World Rugby Sevens Series, culminated in a triumphant victory and a ticket to the highly anticipated 2024 Paris Olympics.

Under the adept leadership of new head coach, Kevin Wambua, Shujaa showcased extraordinary prowess, defeating their opponents with ease and reclaiming the title they last won in 2019, doing so unbeaten.

The pinnacle of their triumph came in a thrilling finals encounter, where they stunned the pre-tournament favourites and formidable South African team with a 17-12 victory in a tense final on Sunday.

Kenya has now become the ninth men’s team to confirm their participation at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Shujaa will now join France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland, and USA in the Paris line-up. The final three places will be decided via the Oceania and Asia qualification tournaments and the Olympic Repechage tournament.

After the crushing disappointment of missing out on the inaugural HSBC SVNS (World Rugby Sevens Series) after a last-gasp, relegation play-off defeat to Canada in London in May, the Kenya squad was all smiles in Harare once the magnitude of what they had achieved had sunk in. 

A standout aspect of Shujaa's resurgence was the infusion of fresh talent into their ranks, with six promising debutants making their mark on the international stage.

Among them, winger Patrick Odongo emerged as a standout player, leaving an indelible mark on the tournament.

Odongo's exceptional performance saw him secure the position of Shujaa's top try scorer, bagging an impressive seven tries throughout the tournament.

Alongside the equally formidable John Okoth, Odongo played a pivotal role, scoring the crucial tries that propelled Kenya to a stunning victory against rugby giants South Africa in the finals.

However, it wasn't just the new faces that shone on the field. Kenya Sevens captain Vincent Onyala, a seasoned campaigner, was instrumental in the team's success.

Onyala's leadership, experience, and incredible athleticism were on full display as he contributed five tries throughout the tournament.

Shujaa coach Wambua was always confident they could make it to a third Olympic Games after participating in Rio and Tokyo and the Shujaa made short work of their day one opponents, Zambia, Namibia, and Nigeria, to top Group B and reach the quarter-finals.

Kenya were equally clinical in dispatching Burkina Faso (26-0) and then hosts Zimbabwe (35-10) as they booked their place in the final.

Wambua underlined their unwavering focus on the upcoming Olympics, displaying a forward-thinking mindset and a determination to continue the journey to further success.

The triumph in the Rugby Africa Sevens tournament was a result of meticulous planning, rigorous training, and a reinvigorated team spirit.

Shujaa's ability to rise from adversity and turn disappointment into triumph is a testament to their resilience and dedication.

The road ahead, leading to the 2024 Paris Olympics, holds promise and excitement, as Shujaa looks to continue their winning streak on the global stage. The nation eagerly awaits their performance, hopeful for more moments of glory and pride on the international rugby stage.

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