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Kenya seek precision at Moscow Rugby SWC

27 June 2013, 18:34 John Kwoba

Nairobi - Having reached the last four in Dubai back in 2009, Kenyans are not demanding too much in asking for the Main Cup trophy when the Sevens Rugby World Cup starts in Moscow on Friday.

Of course the players are human and errors are bound to occur, but Mike Friday's players are aware that the rules make no allowance for human reactions to stress or honest mistakes. Having played at the big stage for over a decade, excuses of nerves, tension and pumping adrenaline will hold no water.

Kenya start their campaign against the Philippines on Friday. There performance will not be based on how good their start will be, but on how fast and strong their finish is.

"We face a stern test in Moscow. We face a challenging group and all the teams are capable of making it through the second round. All teams in the competition are capable of causing an upset, so we must be at our best to lock them out," said Friday before the team departed to London training camp.

It means, Kenya cannot afford to gamble on how they start their campaign. Underrating the Philippines will be suicidal.

The outcome of the Friday (June 28) match will be important in their ultimate ranking. There will be Zimbabwe and Samoa also waiting on the fringes come Saturday.

"This is the World Cup and all teams are in Moscow to win," said Mwangi Muthee, the Kenya Rugby Union Chairman. "But we have a strong team and they will battle it out gallantly."

To underscore this point, Kenya will be having five players who performed well in Dubai in 2009 in the squad. Veteran Humphrey Kayange, Lavin Asego, Collins Injera, Biko Adema and Horace Otieno will be the steel around which the silk of Eden Agero, Michael Wanjala, William Ambaka and Oscar Ouma will be wrapped.

But one player that will be crucial to the Kenya's surge in Moscow will be William Ambaka. Dubbed 'Kenya's Lomu', Ambaka was in the forwards when Mike Friday arrived as head coach and his decision to move the gentle giant into the centre and wing positions has proved inspired.

His was the telling performance when Kenya reached the Cup final in Wellington of this season's Series, beating New Zealand in the semis, and he was also a big factor in the other three semi finals the Kenyans have reached this season.

A massive breakthrough year for the young man who is just one part of a strong side featuring the likes of Oscar Ouma and brothers Humphrey Kayange and Collins Injera, Kenya's top scorer at the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series.

Ambaka is one of the eight nominees for the IRB Sevens Player of the Year.

In all, eight nations are represented across the two categories with New Zealanders taking four of the 13 nominations after their victorious seasons in both the Sevens World Series and the inaugural IRB Women's Sevens World Series.

The eight nominees are: Afa Aiono (Samoa), Willie Ambaka (Kenya), Cornal Hendricks (South Africa), Frankie Horne (South Africa), Gillies Kaka (New Zealand), Tim Mikkelson (New Zealand), Dan Norton (England), Joji Raqamate (Fiji).

In the women's category the five nominees are: Kelly Brazier (New Zealand), Jennifer Kish (Canada), Kayla McAlister (New Zealand), Emily Scarratt (England) and Kelly van Harskamp (Netherlands).

"These 13 nominees epitomize the skill, speed, power and excitement that has made our Olympic sport of Sevens a hit around the world and their recognition is a credit to their teams and their nations," said IRB Chairman, Bernard Lapasset.

However, Mike Friday will be without the injured Dennis Ombachi.

"It is of course crushing not to be going to the World Cup, it is every player's dream to represent his country at this competition," said Ombachi, one of Kenya's key players during the 2012/13 Series.

"I've come to terms with the injury and the fact that I will miss the World Cup but rest assured I will come back even stronger after surgery.

"I wish my team mates all the best and I believe that they are capable of going all the way in Moscow."

Muthee, added: "Our men are raring to go. They are well prepared for the challenge that awaits them. We all know what they are capable of, not least, being able to go all the way and lift the Rugby World Cup Sevens trophy."

Nine teams have directly qualified for RWC Sevens 2013. There are a further 15 who secured the vailable qualification spots, making a total of 24 teams in the men's competition.

From Africa, the top three nations in Mombasa during the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Cup - Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tunisia - are all bound for Moscow.

Throw in South Africa and the continent has a good representation and a possible shout at the title.

Kenya beat Samoa for the third spot four years ago in Dubai and is now cast it net on clinching the Main Cup title. But with Friday's contract discussion coming out soon and the lure of winning and getting the opportunity to lead England to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the Englishman has his task cut out.

Kenya has been drawn in Pool C alongside Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Samoa. With 24 teams taking part, the six pool winners and the two best runners up will book their berths to the Main Cup quarterfinals.

However, unlike the last three editions where Kenya was guided by a native coach, this time round, Englishman Mike Friday will be in charge. In his debut season with Kenya, Friday guided the team to finish fifth with 99 points at the IRB World Series.

This is the highest spot, Kenya has finished the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series was started in 1999. Now the challenge is to replicate the same consistence and performances at the World Cup.

Kenya squad - Andrew Amonde (captain), Collins Injera (vice captain), Humphrey Kayange, Lavin Asego, Biko Adema, Horace Otieno, Patrice Agunda, William Ambaka, Felix Ayange, Michael Wanjala, Eden Agero and Oscar Ouma.

- Xinhua

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