Hope and anxiety hover over Kenya Sevens Rugby team in equal measure as they take to the AT&T Arena in San Francisco, USA for the ninth edition of Sevens Rugby World Cup tomorrow.
The bar is set very high for Simiyu and Kenya team that has reached main cup semi-finals in the last two editions.
Their opening game is a manageable duel with minnows Tonga at 1.09pm tomorrow after which half of the 24 teams will be eliminated from the Main Cup race.
Kenya will be playing at the world cup for the fifth consecutive time but their 2017/2018 season marked with contrasting heights of circumstances has left fans speculating over the kind of performance to expect.
Having conjured the highest points tally in the World Rugby circuit, the team descended into chaos in the final leg in Paris prompting Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) to axe high achieving coach Innocent Simiyu before the government-brokered his reinstatement.
Top-tier players were also slapped with show cause letters which were later withdrawn but it remains to be seen how much damage the feuding caused. There exists an uneasy truce between the players and KRU although both parties harbour mutual mistrust for the other.
Simiyu’s defence of the players and subsequent biting of the bullet in the wake of the playing unit’s open act of defiance in Paris has galvanised the team around him, a factor he hopes to feed on and turn in a better performance at the World Cup.
World Rugby have radically changed the tournament format from conventional groupings into a knockout affair. Any slip-up leads to elimination, a phenomenon that calls for quick adaptation by all the teams. “It is an interesting format. This being a knockout it means that you have to adapt very first to the chaos in the game because if the game goes it goes and you have to keep winning to stay in it. The first game versus Tonga will be very critical.
We have to start very well, get our game going, hit our performance standards very early, get the results that we want and proceed from there,” said Innocent Simiyu, the Kenyan tactician.
Simiyu, a member of the pioneering RWC semi-final class of 2009 has named a squad that features Collins Injera, a member of the 2009 and 2013 semifinalist squads as well as Andrew Amonde, Willy Ambaka and Eden Agero who were all part of the 2013 squad.
Commenting on his squad selection ahead of the tournament, he said, “We have a very strong squad based on training. The guys have really trained hard and we believe we have selected the best team that can represent the country.
“We’re looking for good performances from the players and hopefully we can get some good results.”