Kenya Sevens face a moment of truth in the final two legs of the World Sevens Series, starting tomorrow at the home of English rugby, Twickenham.
Kenya are in a real dogfight to keep their core status for next season. They are on 26 points from eight tournaments with Wales on 25 points and Japan (22 points).
The team that finishes last will get relegated and replaced by World Seven Series qualifiers, Ireland, next season.
The implications of getting relegated from the World Sevens Series are huge for Shujaa and could mean reduced funding with a lot more sponsors likely to shy away.
If relegated, Shujaa will have to go through regional Sevens tournaments then head to Hong Kong 7s for the qualifying tournament, featuring champions and runners up from other continents. Here, only one team will qualify for the series.
Former Kenya Sevens coach Benjamin Ayimba, who coached the team between 2006-2011 and 2015-2016, said the implications of relegation are too grave to contemplate.
“It will be disastrous as the grant we get for World Rugby will reduce and with the union in a perilous state in terms of finances, we will be in a bad place,” added Ayimba.
He said for the next two tournaments, Shujaa will be praying that Wales and Japan falter in their quest to remain core teams.
“Wales are pretty much at home especially in London but we hope they don’t go on good a run. The same applies to Japan,” added Ayimba.
Ayimba said lack of preparation has hurt the side. “Failure to plan is planning to fail and I guess we are all seeing the results.”
A pay dispute between senior players and the union over reduced salaries at the start of the campaign saw 15 players sit out the first six legs of the season.
The team did not have an intensive pre-season, where the players are put through a rigorous set of fitness and conditioning in order to be ready for the World Sevens series.
A deal was reached between the union and some of the senior players in March and this saw former skipper Andrew Amonde, flyhalf Eden Agero, Jeff Oluoch, Dan Sikuta and winger Nelson Oyoo return to the squad for the final four legs of the series.
Talisman and Kenya sevens top try scorer Collins Injera, Willy Ambaka and Billy Odhiambo have opted not to play for the side and may return during the Olympic Sevens qualifiers in November in South Africa. Shujaa have had a shambolic season, judging by the standards set last season where they bagged their highest points tally of 104 under Innocent Simiyu.
This season, Shujaa have failed to make any main cup quarterfinals. A look at the scorecard makes dim reading for the fans.
Shujaa best performance came at the Hamilton Sevens, where they picked seven points. Dubai, Sydney and Vancouver were the worst performing legs with one point each. In Hong Kong and Las Vegas, the team picked five points each and in Singapore and Cape Town its been three points each.
The emergence of teenage sensation Johnstone Olinda, KCB winger Vincent Ooyala and Mwamba playmaker Sammy Taabu have been the bright spark in a poor season. Kenya are in a tough Pool B, where they face Olympic champions Fiji in the opener (12:36 pm) before taking on Samoa at 3:20 pm. They wind up their preliminary fixtures against France at 6:26 pm.