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Kenya joins big boys league with historic Singapore 7s victory

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by December 22, 2016 General
By AYUMBA AYODI
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The 2015/2016 season will go down as the most memorable in Kenyan rugby.

After 17 years of hard work, Kenya Sevens finally won a leg in the World Rugby Sevens Series — the Singapore Sevens—after having previously reached the finals twice.

Kenya finished seventh during the 2015/2016 World Rugby Sevens Series with 98 points. This was an improvement from the previous season where they finished 13th with 46 points.

Mwamba speedster Collins Injera celebrated a milestone when he scored his 235th try to become the all-time highest try scorer in the Series.

Collins Injera celebrates his World Rugby Sevens Series 231st try at London Sevens on Saturday that made him the all-time top try scorer in the tournament. PHOTO | MARTIN SERAS | AFPCollins Injera celebrates his World Rugby Sevens Series 231st try at London Sevens on Saturday that made him the all-time top try scorer in the tournament. PHOTO | MARTIN SERAS | AFP

However, the season got off to a shaky start when players refused to train. They complained about poor training conditions, lack of contracts and salary cuts. Senior players wanted Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) to clear explanations on the details in their contracts. The stalemate resulted in top players boycotting the 2015 Safari Sevens and junior side was fielded.

Benjamin Ayimba, who had returned as Kenya Sevens coach to replace Felix “Toti” Ochieng, and his deputy Paul Murunga, managed to convince the players to return to training. A sterling performance by juniors in the Safari Sevens where they lost 20-19 to Samurai in the final, swayed most senior players to return to the team.

During the season, Kenya beat Zimbabwe 21-19 to qualify for Rio Olympic Games. In the World Rugby sevens Series they finished fourth in Cape Town before reaching the Plate final in Australia.  They also reached the Plate semi-finals in Wellington, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Paris.

Dubai proved a shaky start where Kenya lost all their pool matches to end their campaign at the Bowl semi-final.

In the Cape Town Sevens, Kenya stunned defending champions South Africa 14-12 on their way to the Cup quarters. They went on to dismantle USA 26-11 before losing to Argentina in the 24-22 in the Cup semi-finals. They finished fourth overall after going down 28-26 to France.

The team’s crowning moment was at the Singapore Sevens. Despite losing to South Africa 14-0 in the pool stage, they drew 12-12 against Scotland and beat Russia 21-7 to make the Cup quarters.

They exacted revenge against France, who had beaten them thrice in the season, with a 28-7 victory and Argentina 15-12 to reach the final.  Its Injera’s well taken penalty from 40m at the hooter that propelled Kenya to the final. Kenya would dismantle Fiji 30-7 for an historic win at Singapore Sevens.

Player of the match in the final, Injera, landed a brace of tries as Kenya annihilated the Fijians.

Kenya's team celebrate with the trophy after defeating Fiji in the cup final at the Singapore Sevens rugby tournament on April 17, 2016. PHOTO | ROSLAN RAHMAN | AFP Kenya’s team celebrate with the trophy after defeating Fiji in the cup final at the Singapore Sevens rugby tournament on April 17, 2016. PHOTO | ROSLAN RAHMAN | AFP
At the Twickenham Stadium during the London Sevens Injera achieved his dream as the highest try scorer in the Series. It’s the same venue that the 29-year-old scored his 200th try last year and break the world record of 230 tries set by Argentinian Santiago Gomez Cora in 2009 at the same arena.

The women’s side, Kenya Lionesses took part in their first Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series in France, finishing 11th out of 12 teams. They only beat Japan 12-5 in Bowl third place play-off.

Rugby returned to the Olympics in Rio for the first time since 1924. Expectations were high for Kenya Sevens after the victory in Singapore. But they had a poor outing, finishing 11th out of 12, the Lionesses also finished 11th after beating only Colombia.

Kenya's Janet Okelo is tackled in the women's rugby sevens match between Spain and Kenya during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 7, 2016. PHOTO | AFP Kenya’s Janet Okelo is tackled in the women’s rugby sevens match between Spain and Kenya during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 7, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Kenya's players applaud after their 2016 Olympic Games rugby sevens Pool C match against Japan during at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 10, 2016. PHOTO | PHILIPPE LOPEZ | AFP Kenya’s players applaud after their 2016 Olympic Games rugby sevens Pool C match against Japan during at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 10, 2016. PHOTO | PHILIPPE LOPEZ | AFP
The 21st edition of Safari Sevens was held September 25 the Safaricom Stadium Kasarani. Kenya’s Shujaa claimed a hat-trick of titles by dethroning Samurai International 38-21 in the final. The Safari 7s witnessed the lowest attendance since inception, prompting rugby enthusiasts to ask whether Safari Sevens is fast losing its appeal.

At least 6,000 fans attended this year’s event and last year, 10,000. The 2013 and 2014 editions had record crowds of between 47,000 and 35,000 respectively. Poor marketing and questionable composition of the local organising committee were blamed for the poor turnout.

Kenya Shujaa players and Kenya Rugby Union chairman Richard Omwela (second right) celebrate with the Safari Sevens rugby tournament trophy on September 25, 2016 at Safaricom Stadium. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | Kenya Shujaa players and Kenya Rugby Union chairman Richard Omwela (second right) celebrate with the Safari Sevens rugby tournament trophy on September 25, 2016 at Safaricom Stadium. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

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