Legendary Kenyan rugby players led by former skipper Dennis ‘Iron Man’ Mwanja and Humphrey ‘Tall’ Khayange have opened up after the shocking relegation of the rugby national sevens team, Shujaa from the HSBC Sevens series.
Mwanja who is currently on assignment with the ladies’ team, Kenya Lionesses in Madagascar, bewailed that those who were at the helm of KRU, brought down the game of rugby that most players built on hard work, sweat and tears.
“Those who were at the helm of the game took away the game from the people who built it with blood, sacrifice, and love, and it’s now gone back to dust! We didn’t expect this to end 19 years ago when we took Kenya to core status,” Mwanja said.
Khayange who was recently elected as a Director with KRU and a former Olympian and Hall of Famer with the national team said the devastating results cut deep and will take time for most rugby enthusiasts to digest the outcome.
Menengai Oilers head coach Gibson Weru who also captained the national team during the glory days lamented poor management and poor player transition in the national team setup has led to the slow death of the once celebrated Shujaa squad.
Former Shujaa talisman Denis Ombachi, who scored the winning try against Zimbabwe that took Kenya Sevens to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games said Kenya needed the core status for pride and life-changing opportunities that come with it.
“We needed that core status for pride but for me it’s the life-changing opportunities that come with it, “You have no idea how many livelihoods feed off the system,” Ombachi said.
Another former Kenya sevens player Lucas Onyango was devastated by the Shujaa results, saying the team had no reason whatsoever to launch excuses for their dismal performance in the HSBC Sevens series.
“This is one of the saddest days in Kenya’s rugby history. Some of us were paid peanuts and expected to win trophies to a time when Kenya rugby players were paid well before the people who came before them and pushed for player rights. We sit here trying to give all sorts of excuses,” Onyango said.
Onyango added “Having jokers leading sports organisations and ministries got us here. We are obsessed with foreigners leading our time but ready to invest in our local sons who showed they can lead. 7 years ago Kenya conquered the sevens and had a blueprint for winning no matter what.
On his part newly elected KRU President Alexander Mutai said a myriad of factors led to the country’s relegation which have been contentious for the past 10 years while blaming poor culture and poor player transition as the key factors behind the team’s poor performance.
“This whole issue did not start this season. If you look back at the last decade, lack of culture, poor player transition, lack of resources and a high turnover of coaches have seen us where we are but this is not the time to finger-point. I am confident we will get back to our rightful position,” Mutai said.
For Kenya to earn back its core status, they have to qualify for the Africa rugby sevens final and hopefully win or come in second before going on to participate and win in the two-weekend challenge tournament featuring 12 teams from around the globe.
However, after 19 years of playing at the top tier, Shujaa will have to go back to the drawing book and strategies on the way forward and how to reclaim their lost glory.