Until a few years ago, Rugby Unions around the world were known as Rugby Football Unions, including our very own Kenya Rugby Union. I believe they got an awakening that as much as rugby has its roots in English football; they had grown to become a different entity in every way except that rugby players are still allowed to kick the ball sometimes.
Along the way, someone had tried to differentiate the two games based on players and fans. Rugby is played by ruffians and watched by gentlemen while football is played by gentlemen and watched by ruffians. He could be right but such are informal phrases for fun born out of simplistic assessment of complex social matrices behind the two sports.
Semantics aside, congratulations to Benjamin Ayimba coached Kenya Sevens Team for winning the IRB Circuit in Singapore this past Sunday. Such feats are not acts of flukes. Kenya can beat Argentina, France and even South Africa by fluke, but to beat Fiji in a cup final requires more than luck. This is a product of work, hard work that none of us may ever know its depth or extent but we can see the results. Success is a product of good planning and execution, and luck happens to those who prepare for it.
Kenya won the main cup trophy after 140 tournaments where they have managed two main cup finals before. Every time Kenya goes into a circuit, our lack of consistency especially against the big boys always works against us. Our semi-professional rugby can never match the pacific nations’ and other first world countries full professional status pound for pound. All in all, in our fluctuating consistency, we never lack flashes of brilliance that show we are made of some solid stuff.
So in the midst of the celebration for our rare achievement; some football fans suggested Harambee Stars players should go and carry the Rugby Sevens’ players’ bags from the airport. That would be humiliating for our football players who always give the best of what they have. How can we make Sevens Rugby Team out of our out of shine football players?
Back to Basics
The over used but evergreen phrases like ‘back to basics’ and ‘keep it stupid simple- KISS’ can work well for our football gate keepers. The first is our national team stripes. No one knows the home, away and third stripes of our national team unlike the Sevens Team which we can spot in the crowd at any IRB Circuit. Image is everything; we can work on this simple but crucial point.
The new FKF President Nick Mwendwa had suggested adopting the Sevens Team colours for our football team. The ideal situation is holding a competition for designers to submit their samples to be selected by a ‘panel of experts’. Realistically, leaders fail forward. Nick Mwendwa doesn’t have to wait for favourable winds to set out on a sail. Let FKF adopt the Sevens Team colours then the competition can give us the other two stripes.
This exercise will give the national team class and value. Players will know that it takes sweat and blood to wear the national colours. The turnover of coaches in the recent past has meant that every Tom, Dick and that other character has had a chance to play for the national team. Let us develop a core team of worthy players like our Injera brothers, Biko Adema and Amonde then once in a while tweak in the Oliechs and Oscar Ayodis. The selection should also be based on known criteria so that players know what to work for rather than look for whom to know.
The core of the Sevens team has played together for several years. It is also good to note that KRU is managing the transition quite well, the old guards are slowly bowing out on a high while upcoming talents are getting a feel of what it takes to play at the top level. There is no magic formula, it takes time.
When Mike Friday came and Ayimba was shoved off from the bench, we saw him earn his nickname Otoyo when we came close to winning two circuits. It has taken a local coach in Ayimba to win a main cup. A romour popped up recently that Adel Amrouche is in town to take back the reigns at the national team. Fans were happy following their disapproval of Stanley Okumbi’s appointment and the curse of favouritism in selection that our local coaches like.
Adel Amrouche is a good coach, because he won us CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup on home soil. The question we should be asking ourselves is why he is so eager to come back to our troubled backyard. He may be good, but he is not the best around. We have won and I am sure we can another CECAFA with a local coach. We need to have a plan and get good coaches to fulfill it; the best man could be a local option.
Safari Sevens is another example that FKF can adopt. The tournament has had its challenges but every year players come from all over the world to feature in this tournament. Countries might not send their best sides but our players get a feel of the intense and highly charged atmosphere of sevens circuit. IRB may not add it to its circuit in the near future but that does not take the wind of Safari Sevens sail just yet. FKF can come up with an annual invitational tournament that will bring the best players to Kenya. The inspiration it will give to upcoming players is invaluable.
Kenyan Rugby and Football might be miles apart in terms of capacity of officials, number of clubs and followers but FKF can learn a lot by taking that short trip to KRU Offices on Ngong’ Road. Meanwhile, go easy on our national team football players- the ball does not go into the net by fluke.