Six lessons learned from Shujaa's victory at Africa Sevens

© Rugby Afrique

RUGBY Six lessons learned from Shujaa's victory at Africa Sevens

Imran Otieno 17:00 - 19.09.2023

Kenya Sevens outdid themselves to qualify for the 2024 Olympics by winning the Africa Sevens against the much fancied South Africa.

The dust is slowly settling on the Africa Sevens tournament where Shujaa upset pre-tournament favourites South Africa to join France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland, and the USA in the 2024 Olympic Games.

Kenya Seven’s performance won the hearts of many including South Africa head coach Sandile Ngcobo and playmaker Ricky Duarte who both admitted that Shujaa deserved the victory.

Here are six things learned from the Shujaa’s outing in the Africa Sevens.

Shujaa in the right coaching hands

Head coach Kevin 'Bling' Wambua, his assistant, and former captain Andrew Amonde appointed as the strength and conditioning coach were trusted to pick up the pieces following relegation from the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and they more than delivered on their first task.

It was surprising to see former head coach Damian McGrath given that much time even when results show no signs of improvement albeit the team suffering serious financial challenges that massively hampered their performances on the pitch.

Just less than two months under Wambua who was McGrath’s assistant, Shujaa are a completely different outfit, who are ruthless in both attack and defense and have visibly clear structures that can pose a threat to top sevens sides as demonstrated in the final against South Africa.

There was an element of machismo and strong mentality about Wambua when naming his squad as he bullishly noted that “If South Africa was good enough they could have qualified (for the Olympics) automatically.”

The same sentiments were echoed by his captain Vincent Onyala which only means that the team had one clear mission and the fact that they went on to achieve it says a lot about their mental fortitude.

It was also lovely to see the camera pan to Wambua and his coaching staff at half time and listening to them issue clear and precise instructions in heavy rugby jargon shows that the players and the technical bench are in perfect sync.

Odongo announced himself to the world aplomb

Patrick Odongo is no stranger to local rugby enthusiasts since making a name for himself in the 2022 National Sevens Circuit with his dazzling performances for Daystar Falcons which earned him a slot in the Team of the Series.

It is however somewhat baffling that he has yet to play in the World Sevens Series that has now rebranded to HSBC SVNS and will have to wait longer to make his debut in the premier sevens competition with the Africa Sevens being his first major tournament in Shujaa colours.

He has however been the beneficiary of the Shujaa programme as he was called up to every squad but failed to be included in the World Series travelling squad.

Despite his tender age, Odongo already looks close to the finished article with his pace, trickery, and good defense on the wing making him a handful. 

It is no surprise that he was handed the legendary Collins Injera jersey number 11 and currently looks like the closest thing to the all-time second top try scorer in the world series.

What makes his performances even mind boggling was that he played through the whole tournament with the grief of losing his mum a week before the tourney and his performances were enough to leave a smile on the mum watching from above as he finished as the joint top try scorer with seven alongside Oilers’ John Okoth.

Squad selection with perfect blend

The 12-man squad that was selected for duty in the Africa Sevens understood the assignment despite little or no experience on the international stage for half of the squad.

Patrick Odongo, Nygel Amaitsa, Samuel Asati, Bildad Ogeta, Festus Shiasi and William Mwanji were the rookies in the squad but delivered to see Kenya qualify for the Olympics for the third successive time.

The rookies show that the rebuild is well and truly underway and if the Africa Sevens is anything to go by it will not be long before we reclaim our status as a core nation in the World Series.

Shujaa showed no signs of missing the experienced former captain Nelson Oyoo, Alvin Otieno, and Jeff Oluoch who at times flattered to deceive in our relegation season at the World Series.

With the likes of Dennis Abukuse, Floyd Wabwire, Brian Wahinya, and Brunson Madigu (injury) not making the cut, there is a plethora of options for Wambua to select from.

The two captains Vincent Onyala and Tony Omondi were also immense for Shujaa with Wambua having a strong bench to call upon with George Ooro always coming from the bench to fortify the victories.

Importance of circuit

The Africa Sevens came on the backdrop of the National Sevens Circuit and with the whole squad having taken part in the local series, all were in top shape for the continental tourney.

This season saw the rise of Nygel Amaitsa, William Mwanji, Samuel Asati, Bildad Ogeta, and Festus Shiasi despite the latter trio being in the game for sometime.

The circuit might need some improvement going forward to lead to the discovery of more Odongo’s be it increasing the number of legs or introducing a junior age-grade tournament to complement the Division Two.

Amaitsa’s rugby IQ makes Shujaa tick

The Strathmore Leos rookie was a joy to watch, with his peerless understanding of the game as he sliced through defense lines like a hot knife through butter with effortless ease.

He possesses some New Zealand flair in him, as he is not always keen to go into contact but uses his body faint and movement to devastating effect which unsettles defenses and creates space for the oncoming runners.

No resting on laurels, work is still cut out

Shujaa won plaudits in the Africa Sevens but the Olympics will be a different ball game as they will come up against France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Uruguay, Ireland and USA.

South Africa were the only country that presented a major threat for Shujaa but they have also been off-colour in the past season.

Shujaa were definitely headed the right direction but a lot still needs to be done if we are to return to the World Series at the first time of asking.