Kenya Sevens eye another victory in Uruguay's Challenger Series

Kenya Shujaa's Captain Vincent Onyala fight it out with Samurai Baraccudas players during the 2023 Safari 7s tournament at RFUEA ground. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

As the Kenyan Sevens teams gear up for the second leg of the World Rugby Challenger Series in Montevideo, Uruguay, Shujaa captain Vincent Onyala has exuded confidence in their prospects following their triumphant performance in the first leg held in Dubai.

Both Shujaa and their women's counterparts Lionesses will be stepping onto the Uruguayan fields on Friday evening with high spirits.

Lionesses will kick off their campaign against Hong Kong China at 6.36pm (EAT) and later face Papua New Guinea at 11.26pm.

They will then match up with Belgium tomorrow at 6.21pm. Their performances have been steadily improving, and they seek to showcase their growth in the upcoming matches.

Shujaa, on the other hand, have a packed schedule starting with a match against Portugal at 9.01pm. The action continues tomorrow with games against Georgia at 1.48am and later against Tonga at 8.46pm.

"Our preparations have been thorough, and the team morale is high," said Onyala.

 "We’ve refined our strategy and physical conditioning, and I believe our hard work will pay off."

The first leg's success, where Kenya emerged victorious with a narrow but thrilling 12-5 win over Chile, has been a significant morale booster for the team.

Despite the palpable confidence, Shujaa will miss the services of Patrick Odongo, a key player who sustained an injury playing for the Daystar Falcons in the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship.

“We had a stellar performance during the first leg and we want to make it count here in Uruguay again. We are confident we will do very well again and with the squad rotation we are hopeful we will be at the podium again,” said Onyala.

Odongo's absence is felt particularly because of his outstanding performance in Dubai, where he not only scored two tries in the final but also topped the scoring charts with 11 tries.

His remarkable ability to navigate through defenses and find the try line was instrumental in Kenya’s gold medal finish.

Onyala acknowledges Odongo’s impact but insists the team has depth.

"Patrick is an exceptional player, and he will be missed. However, this team is more than just one individual. We have talented players ready to step up and fill those shoes," he affirmed.

Shujaa head coach Kevin ‘Bling’ Wambua said they are keen on maintaining their momentum and building on their Dubai win.

In an effort to bridge the huge gap left by Odongo, Wambua has made five changes to the Shujaa team as he named three debutants in Lamec Ambetsa, Chrisant Ojwang and Elvis Olukusi while Dennis Abukuse and Ben Salem return.

In Ambetsa, Shujaa will get the pace and trickery synonymous with Odongo, a trait the Kabras Sugar full back has continuously showed during the Kenya Cup where he has scored eight tries

“Tonga is a physical side and unlike them, we haven’t played Portugal yet but our plan is to stay within our style of play and maintain consistency. The boys are confident and despite a few changes the hunger and goal remains the same, to be promoted,” said Wambua.

Shujaa lead the competition standings after their impressive performance in Dubai, winning five out of six matches. 

With 20 points, Wambua’s side maintain a two-point lead over Chile in the standings, while Uruguay and Germany occupy the third and fourth spots, respectively.

Meanwhile, Japan based Janet Okello returns for the women’s team, the Lionesses, after missing out on the opening leg in Dubai. Okello, who replaced Diana Kemunto, is the only change to the side that finished second at the opening round in Dubai.

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