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In the 1970s, Kenya was amongst the best sevens teams in the world. Players like Dennis Awori played key roles in leading Kenya to success in tournaments like the Dubai sevens where Kenya was amongst the best teams. There were sporadic appearances in global sevens tournaments such as 1983 when Watembezi, a Kenyan select side played in the Dubai sevens and earned rave reviews from All Black players. By the 1990s however, the standards of the sport had plummeted mostly due to lack of exposure. Still the Singapore sevens of 1990 is the one that will remembered for announcing the legebdary Edward Rombo to the world. In a tournament that included many All Black players, Rombo finished as top scorer. Such was the buzz around Rombo that many British rugby league teams immediately sought to offer him contracts.
The introduction of the Safari sevens in 1996 was the beginning of a revival in the fortunes of Kenya rugby. Thanks to the safari sevens Kenya started to get exposure to top class rugby teams from across the globe.
Humphrey Kayange in action at the Safari sevens
The Safari sevens started out as tournament featuring African national teams and a slew of touring teams from Europe. Public School Wanderers from Wales won the inaugural tourney. Subsequent tourneys were won by teams like British Army and Bristol.
By the late 90s Kenya was being invited to some IRB sevens events, specifically the Dubai sevens and the South Africa sevens. In 1999, the performance was far from optimal as Kenya which at time was coached by Michael "Tank" Otieno went 4 games without a win. But Kenya was slowly learning.
Paul Odera seen here tackling a Samoa player at the 2000 Dubai sevens was a relentless tackler
Qualifying for the 2001 sevens rugby world cup was at the time the greatest achievement in the history of Kenya rugby. During the qualifying tournament , It was quite an achievement considering that Kenya had failed miserably at their previous attempt to qualify for the 1997 world cup, loosing heavily to Tunisia and Morocco.
At the world sevens Championships, Kenya surprised may by beating the fancied French team 12-7. However they proceeded to lose to Russia , Argentina and Fiji.
At the 2002 Commonwealth games, Kenya received rave reviews following a stellar performance in which they beat Samoa 28-20 and pushed England to the limit before losing. The results were a vast improvement from the previous Commonwealth games in which Kenya scored only one try. Kenya also emerged as the crowd favorites thanks to their pace and agility.
During the 2003 IRB sevens circuit, Kenya firmly cemented their arrival as one the top rugby sevens nations in the world. At the South Africa sevens , Kenya taught Wales a lesson in hard running rugby when they trounced them 19-0. But it was at the Hong Kong sevens when Kenya became the talk of the town with a 15-12 upset win over Australia. Kenya are now ranked 9th in the world.
Kenya celebrate their win over Australia at the Hong Kong sevens.
In 2004, Kenya won the Safari sevens, much to the delight of the partisan crowds at the RFUEA grounds. Also in 2004, Kenya became a core member of the IRB sevens series in part thanks to an e-mail campaign And in 2005, the qualifiers for the 2005 sevens world cup were held in Zambia. By this time, Kenya had passed Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Morocco to become the top sevens nation in Africa north of the Limpopo. They proved it by winning the tournament. Kenya destroyed rivals Uganda 31-5, Zimbabwe 33-7 and Namibia 33-14, thus winning the tournament in style, exposing the gap in class between them and the rest of the African teams and earning a first class ticket to the World cup in Hong Kong.
The youthful Ted Omondi showed ability well beyond his age scoring several stellar tries.Then there was the hard running Lesley Mango who would come off the bench and run opponents into the ground. Both Mango and Omondi were recent products of St Mary's Yala high school, then a strong rugby sevens school.
However, their performance at the World cup was underwhelming. In group play they beat Tunisia,and Uruguay but lost to South Africa, Argentina and Russia. In the Bowl they beat Hong Kong before loosing to Italy in the bowl semis. The below par performance by Kenya angered fans. Much more was expected from what was then considered the best collection of talent Kenya had ever assembled. This led to the departure of long serving coach Bill Githinji. He was replaced by assistant coach Gordon Anampiu for the 2006 season.
Dennis Mwanja takes off after receiving a pass on the tackle from Ted Omondi
Former player Benjamin Ayimba took over as coach in 2007 and led Kenya to its most successful era. 2009 was the most succesful year in the history of Kenya rugby. That year, Kenya firmly established itself as one of the top sevens nations. In the 2009 IRB sevens series, Kenya reached 7 of 9 semi finals and one final. Along the way, their were successive wins over England and memorable wins over giants like New Zealand and South Africa. Collins Injera topped the IRB series scoring charts with 42 tries. His brother Humphrey Kayange earned a reputation as one of the best sevens players in the world with his all round play, his ability in lineouts and his ability to get to the try line.
But it was at the 2009 sevens world cup that Kenya caught the imagination of the world by reaching the semi finals. Kenya had qualified for the 2009 Rugby sevens world cup in glorious style easily dispatching Zimbabwe, Tunisia,
No one expected Kenya to beat Fiji in the quarter finals but that they did. Victor Oduor was in sensational form, engineering two tries. Veteran Center Ian Simiyu was sensational throughout 2009 as he sliced and diced defenses with his mazy runs. Sydney Ashioya used his amazing acceleration to kick and chase his way to several crucial tries while making several try saving tackles. It was one such last gasp tackle by Ashioya that gave Kenya its first ever win over New Zealand in 2009. Lavin Asego won rave reviews for his excellent kickoffs and his ability to dispatch runners into space with his brilliant runs and passes. Biko Adema scored several crucial tries as did, Allan Onyango. While Bryan Nyikul, veteran Ben Nyambu and Horace Otieno all played key roles in this successful campaign.
Kenya focus prior to a game in 2010
Following their stellar performance during the 2009 season, most pundits concluded that Kenya had finally arrived to claim its place amongst the elite rugby sevens teams. However the next 2 seasons were seasons of frustration for Kenya. After below par seasons in 2010 and 2011, coach Benjamin Ayimba was sidelined and replaced by Mitchell Ocholla. He too proved unable to lift Kenya's standards. It became fairly clear that local coaches were not going to cut it. Due to pressure from the IRB and from sponsors Kenya Airways, Kenya took their search for a coach overseas culminanting in the hiring of former England coach Mike Friday for the 2012-2013 season.