Tag Archives: Kenya Rugby Union

Simiyu’s quest to change the soul of Kenya Sevens

The national sevens rugby team head coach Innocent Simiyu gets a second bite of the cherry and a chance to right the ship after a torrid first year as the head coach.

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Speaking at the team’s pre-season training session at the RFUEA grounds, Simiyu cut the image of a man at ease with his challenge and one who has the respect of his charges ahead of what will be a tough and long season.

“It was not all doom and gloom last season. We exposed several young players. I was happy with our expansive game. Into the new season it is time for the foundation we laid last season to now flourish.”

Pundits have questioned whether he is his own man or a merely lackey of the Union. Simiyu may not have the large-than-life personalities of Benjamin Ayimba or Mike Friday but in his unassuming, professorial nature there is steel that shines through.

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“Biggest thing I want to do is to improve the Kenyan rugby player. When a player is dropped from Shujaa, he drops in life. If we can improve the player such that they can improve their life for good and also when they stop playing they still contribute to the Kenya sevens eco-system then I shall have achieved something. Player is key. Changing the culture and creating purpose is the way.”

Having covered the team for close to half a decade at close range I was intrigued as to what change in culture meant for the former Impala RFC captain and coach.

“Culture is how Kenya Sevens team behaves, operates and interacts with society. We have to change that. Purpose is who we are and why are we here. If cam get clarity on that then there is sustainability in what we are doing.”

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The national sevens rugby team last season struggled in the World Rugby series blowing hot and cold before finishing 12th with a mere 63 points. Many questioned the ability of Simiyu who despite being a top rugby player in his day had little experience as a coach.

“There will always be doubting Thomases. It is life. For us key is to improve the player, play better, develop the game and off course win. Yes, we understand the expectations of Kenyans who want us to win everything.”

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In his first season coach Simuyu despite a target of 10 points a leg, only led Shujaa to 2 main cup quarterfinals in the 10 legs of the series. He cited a poor pre-season for the team’s dismal run. This season he has had the luxury of starting early and not spend most of the season firefighting. With 12 players in camp ‘Namcos’ asserts that training has been good and that he has had 100 percent attendance.

“Quite excited. Wish we keep the momentum and energy that we have started with. I have a feeling that things will be very good this season.”

Simiyu only had Team Manager Eric Ong’weno in his technical bench for most of the season after Strength and Conditioning coach Ian Gibbons resigned early on. Ahead of the 2017/2018 season Kenya Rugby Union has promoted performance analyst William Webster to assistant coach and rehired Geoffrey Kimani as the strength and conditioning coach.

“It is reliving. I was quite lonely. It is lovely that we have a full set of management. Kim has hit the ground running. He is in familiar grounds and we are happy to have him back. As for Will, he is good in analysis and this relives the pressure on me to focus on tactics.”

Shujaa have a busy season ahead with the World Sevens Series starting in December in Dubai, the Commonwealth Games in Perth Australia in April 2018 and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Fransisco USA in July 2018. This means a happy, committed and settled squad is key and areas like contracts, health insurance have to be sorted out early.

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“Contracts have been given. The players are to read then sign. The contracts are better and all the benefits are there. It is one of the best packages given. We have improved what we are offering because it is going to be a tough season. The players will tackle 16 tournaments and we require 100 percent commitment so we must compensate them.”

Last season Simiyu fell short of his 10 points per leg goal and this season he has a different outlook in as far as goal-setting.

“As management we shall be player-centric. It is not about us but about the players. Process of goal-setting is bottom up. Players set individual targets, then we set team targets. So they have the developmental forms to fill then we take it from there.”

The national sevens circuit kicked off with the Driftwood leg in Mombasa and will conclude with the Dala Sevens in Kisumu five legs later. The circuit curtain rises for the Safari Sevens which is scheduled to be held in early November while also on paper being a chance for the technical bench to pick new players.

“There is a selection committee of 5 checking out the players in the circuit. We want all the players to show what they have got. We have the core 12 in training then we pick 28 from circuit to make 40 then we whittle down to around 30. Even the 12 have to play a minimum of 2 legs. It is not a surety that they will be in the team, they have to prove themselves. They are on probation.”

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For many coaches it is winning that is the bottom-line but for Simiyu there is seemingly a desire to build a legacy that can withstand the test of time at Kenya Sevens. Given that the team has had five coaches in five years ‘Namcos’ will have to deliver results on the pitch to be given time to build the culture that he envisions.

GOD BLESS KENYA!

(transcribed from an interview with Innocent Simiyu on 5th August at RFUEA grounds)

PS: All images courtesy of Google.

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Lessons from the Kenya versus Germany Test Match

The Germany national fifteens rugby team won the Test match against Kenya Simbas 29-30 with the last play of the game. A superbly taken drop kick ended coach Jeroome Paarwaters’ long-running winning streak at the RFUEA grounds.

The Road to Japan Rugby World 2019 started with a stumble but that may be a good thing if questions are asked and answers got.

There were a huge number of senior players dropped by the technical bench before the start of the season. The bench stated that they were not up to scratch while word went round that they had being pushed aside for being too vocal about player welfare. What is the truth? Can a middle ground be found?

Of what value was the ten day tour of South Africa? Can a team really get good value from just a ten day trip? There are also reports that a trip to New Zealand is in the pipeline. The ‘bench-marking’ tours are great on paper but their actually tangible benefit on game day is the question. Also, should they be so close to game day such that jet-lag seems to be an issue.

The list of sponsors for the Test Series was quite impressive and every five minutes the announcer earned his pay with a mention of the long list of sponsors: Sportpesa, Tatu City, Safaricom, Tusker, Dasani, etc. The coffers are presumably quite full and it follows that within reason anything the Kenya fifteens team and the technical bench need should be availed. Is that the case? Why then are the fifteens players not on contract like their seven’s counterparts?

Kenya missed out on qualification to the 2015 rugby world cup by just one match. This time round does Kenya Rugby Union have a coherent concrete plan to see Kenya bag the ticket to Japan 2019? For starters a decision has to be made on whether to continue with the players who have worked hard to lift Kenya up in the rankings or to retire them and try qualifying with young blood.

If KRU does have a plan then it is holding it quite close to its chest. However, if I can hazard a guess, it is probably business as usual and hoping for the best. That will certainly not do.

KRU is not the only one that has to step up if Kenya is to play in Japan.

The Simbas had beaten Spain and Portugal with ease in Test matches last year and the Germans who were two slots below in the world rugby rankings were expected to be easy prey.

However, from the onset The Germans seemed to be on the ascendancy with compact defensive play, brilliant forward work at scrum, mauls and line-outs as well as explosive bursts of speed when they spotted a gap. They certainly were the better team overall throughout the match and were good value for the win.

For Kenya, the forwards looked quite sluggish and they totally outplayed and this denied Kenya a platform to build on. As for the backs they were sucked into the contact play and Kenya seemingly lacks a play-maker to switch up the game or to split a defense. It felt over and over like the same play. Either try smash through the middle and when that was stopped by the resolute Germans taking it all the way wide to Jacob Ojee or to Darwin Mukidza to run on the line. It worked twice but it certainly is not enough as the one point loss showed.

The bad news is that the Kenya Simbas are seemingly not yet world cup material. The good news is with the bubble burst so early in the season Kenya can now work at being ready to try qualify for the rugby world cup. A silver lining to the 29-30 loss witnessed by one of the largest crowds RFUEA grounds has hosted.

“Rugby is Ngong Road and Ngong road is rugby” tweeted an avid football fan who had heeded the cry to be part of the Kenya Simba’s pride at RFUEA. Heck, even Jack Oguda, the C.E.O and Frank Okoth, the C.O.O of KPL were in the V.I.P area enjoying the rugby and marveling at the huge fan attendance which Kenyan football can only dream of. Respect to whoever was in charge of the marketing effort, job very well

That Ngong Road is the spiritual home of rugby in Kenya is now beyond doubt and that Kenyans are hungry for a sporting spectacle on a Saturday afternoon is not in question.

However, as has been stated on numerous occasions, the RFUEA grounds need a total makeover.

There needs to be seating stands all round the stadium for the fans as watching rugby while standing is not kosher. Public washrooms need to be build or hired as the ones at the Quins club house are not enough. The changing rooms available may just about pass muster for Eric Shirley games but definitely not for Kenya Cup much less international matches.

Security felt quite blaze and reckon it has to done in a better way given the current realities. Parking was a nightmare and a solution to that has to be thought of and while at it a way not to clog up Ngong Road. The queue to purchase tickets was pretty long and perhaps ticket sales should be moved online and also outsourced. An aside; it was cute seeing Homeboyz RFC players man the ticket booth but it showed a lack of professionalism.

Rugby is as much about the game as the party. Quins was overwhelmed as a party destination as early as 6pm with someone tweeting at 10pm that it was “a mess”. Clearly, therein is an opportunity for event organizers.

With Safari Sevens scheduled to return to RFUEA grounds in November, KRU have a time-bound deadline to beat to fix all these glaring inadequacies at RFUEA.

Lastly, congratulations to KCB who beat Kabras Sugar to lift the Enterprise Cup for a third consecutive season. The final was played at 12pm. It was supposedly the curtain raiser for the Test Match that kicked off at 4pm. Why should a Cup final curtain raise a test match? Felt that this was unfair for the players, the fans and the neutrals. A better scheduling of games should be considered by the Union.

With local fifteens rugby season done and dusted it is now time for speed and thrills in the 6-leg national sevens rugby series. Series kicks off with Mombasa’s Driftwood Sevens on July 22 followed by Nairobi’s Kabereri Sevens on July 29 before taking a break in August for the General Election and resuming in September.

For Kenya Simbas next up is Elgon Cup first leg away to Uganda on June 10 with the return leg signalling the start of the 2017 Africa Cup that has been expanded to six teams: Senegal and Tunisia added to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya.


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