Is Kenya sevens rugby killing 15-a-side game?
11 July 2013, 16:00
Nairobi - Kenya finished in fourth place during the 2013 IRB World Cup held recently in Moscow, Russia.
However, the question on the lips of most pundits is whether 14 years from its inception in 1999 the Kenyan Sevens Circuit has been a worthwhile effort in the development of the game in the country.
In 1998, Stuart Urquhart, then the Development Officer at the Kenya Rugby Union and the union's top officials put their heads together and mooted the idea of a sevens circuit whose purpose would be two-fold.
To produce a team which would represent Kenyan clubs at the then hugely popular and successful Safari Sevens which was in its third year of running; and to tap into Kenya's prodigious talent in sevens rugby with the goal of qualifying for the World Cup in Argentina 2001.
The twin aims were achieved with immeasurable success and has since seen Kenya play in successive World Cups since then.
"The circuit has exploited Sevens talent at the expense of Fifteens rugby, and it is evident in the way the circuit and the league calendars are arranged. Sevens is being given higher priority in the development of the game than Fifteens rugby at not only the senior level, but also the junior," a national team player told Xinhua on Wednesday on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position in the team.
"Weighing the pros and cons of Kenya's adventure with the sevens circuit, the master plan has paid dividends because we have successively qualified for the World Cup and continue to attract better and skilled teams to the Safari Seven, which has since been renamed Safaricom Sevens every year."
Kenyan players are displaying more physical, yet open playing style and their speed is always an asset.
When it came to qualifying for the 2003 15s World Cup in Australia, Kenya fell short at the first hurdle, losing by a try to Madagascar whom they heavily underestimated.
Madagascar has over 200 clubs and 8000 players, whereas Kenya has 1500 players and 20 clubs.
Kenya Rugby Union Chairman Mwangi Muthee says Kenya cannot develop rugby if the game is only concentrated in Nairobi, hence the need to decentralize the sport in line with devolved county governments.
"Not all rugby players are stationed in Nairobi. The majority of them come from western Kenya and they ought to be given an opportunity to play high quality game in their home areas," says Muthee.
"Rugby cannot develop with Nairobi-based teams only. We want those players to be coming to Nairobi ready for national duty completely prepared."
Muthee believes strengthening the 15-a-side game will automatically breed a good sevens team "because most of the sevens players all over the world are the elite of fifteen-a-side like locks, backs and back rows."
There is a base inclination in human beings to long for crunching tackles that are associated with rugby matches where players with big hearts attempt to breach a defensive line only to be smothered by two or more players twice their size.
This effect is only achieved in the fifteens, as opposed to sevens, where to give it its due, a dodging runner can put a crowd on its feet by running as fast as a car in moderate traffic.
"Obviously both codes have their advantages, but if we want to be recognized as a great rugby playing nation, we must develop the full game and the only way to do this is to play more full games," the chairman says.
Sevens rugby is about adrenalin, which pumps into the blood stream in a matter of seconds, and is maintained for minutes after which it dissipates after the stimuli has died down.
In much the same way, a fourteen minute match is the best way to transport the crowd into a blissful appreciation of exciting sport. Fifteens of the other hand is ideal for those who like the punishment long and drawn out.
In South Africa, the Fifteens season totally dominates the rugby calendar from April to September with the local and international competitions the country is involved in.
Sevens tournaments are not heard of except by word of mouth and are not officially on some clubs' calendars in the smaller towns where they are played in either the pre-season of after the season has ended.
The sevens tournaments are good for rugby, but sevens in Kenya, now that it has achieved the goals of representation that it set out to achieve 14 years ago should give fifteens a chance to do the same.
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