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Kenya targets rugby Sevens title in Moscow

14 June 2013, 16:11 John Kwoba

Nairobi - Bronze medallist Kenya is keen to end their drought at the Rugby World Cup in Moscow, which starts on June 28.

Most of Kenyan players are aware this will be their last show at the tournament, though they still have a chance to showcase their talent at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

"We will be taking each game at a time. We have set a quarterfinal target and I believe the boys have what it takes to deliver. After the last eight, it will be hard to predict how we will perform, but I believe we are up to the task," said Collins Injera, Kenya's top try scorer at the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series.

Kenya, which was third in Dubai World Cup in 2009 under coach Benjamin Ayimba, has been drawn in Pool C alongside Zimbabwe, Philippines and Samoa at the World Cup.

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 since 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.

"The training we are doing is excruciating. We are pushing the body to the limit and we have no choice but to continue. The challenge ahead is not easy and we have high stakes. Many people have belief that Kenya will do well, we do not want to disappoint them," said Humphrey Kayange, a former Captain of the team, who is also in the team to Moscow.

The team, which is training in Nairobi, will depart on Sunday for London, where they will have a two-week training camp, before they proceed on to Moscow on June 25.

At the 2009 tournament in Dubai, Wales, Samoa, Argentina and Kenya combined to stun the rugby world by defeating the traditional powerhouses of New Zealand, England, South Africa and Fiji in the quarterfinals, guaranteeing a new Melrose Cup winner.

Wales and Argentina met in the final after winning their semifinal games, with Wales triumphing 19-12. Kenya on the other hand finished third beating Samoa.

This was the best show for Kenya as they had wound up 19th at both the 2005 and 2001 editions.

Now, as Friday leads his charges to Moscow, he will be alive the demands and target set by the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU), who want another final show in the Main Cup, which will signal the country's preparedness for the debut Olympic show in Rio in three year's time.

"We have bonus lined up should they the boys reach the Main Cup finals in Moscow. It will not just be us, but even the government will chip in. This is the World Cup and we are taking it seriously and we want Friday to succeed with the boys," said Mwangi Muthee, the KRU Chairman.

Friday's has been holding on hope that his show with Kenya will be noticed back home in England where he is angling to replace Ben Ryan as the England Sevens coach and eventually coach the Great Britain Team to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, where Kenya will also be playing.

Friday has named a 16-member team and will trim it down to 12 to make the final cut in Moscow. The notable absentee is Sidney Ashioya, although all of the other leading Kenyan players are included.

"The playing unit has responded to the challenges thrown to them with admirable dedication," said KRU Chairman, Mwangi Muthee.

"We thank them for the sacrifices they have made in their quest to attain the requisite physical benchmarks set. I also want to pay tribute to the team management led by head coach, Mike Friday, Felix Ochieng, Chris Brown, George Odhiambo, Steve Sewe and Michael Owino."

Muthee and Ochieng also took the opportunity to urge Kenyan fans to rally behind their team as usual.

"The Rugby World Cup Sevens happens once every four years and it is very special for us," said Ochieng. "We go into the tournament looking to improve on our showing from 2009, where we reached the semi-final.

"We needed to get the right kind of balance and this is what informed the selection of the squad. We also took into consideration the fact that we are building for the future, hence the call-up of young Robert Aringo."

Team Captain Andrew Amonde said: "We look forward to a very good showing at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup Sevens. The squad selected is the very best and I believe that it has the potential to emerge victorious in Moscow."

Rugby World Cup Sevens is the premier stand-alone international rugby sevens competition.

The event is organized by the sport's governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), and is contested by the men's national sevens teams every four years. The inaugural tournament was held in 1993 in Scotland, the birthplace of rugby sevens.

Wales are the current World Champions having won the competition in 2009. Fiji have won the tournament twice.

New Zealand and England have both won a single tournament each, while both Australia and South Africa having both reached the finals, but have not secured a title.

The winners of the tournament are awarded the Melrose Cup, named after the Scottish town of Melrose where the first rugby sevens game was played.

Prior to the inclusion of Rugby Sevens into the Olympic Games, the IRB stated that their intention would be to end the World Cup Sevens so that the Olympic Games would be the one pinnacle in a four year cycle for Rugby Sevens.

However, following consultation, the IRB announced that the competition would be retained, and integrated into the Olympic calendar, meaning that a meaningful elite level competition would take place every two years from 2016.

In order to achieve this, the first competition after Olympic integration is set to take place in 2018, which will entail a one-off five year gap from the 2013 competition.

It is intended that this competition will be markedly larger in terms of team numbers than the Olympic tournament.

The Sevens World Cup in Dubai in 2009 attracted a cumulative crowd of 78,000 and was broadcast to a global television reach of 760 million people in 141 countries and regions.

The IRB also stated those figures showed a significant growth in the traditional non-rugby markets of Asia, Africa, north and South America.

"Sevens is already a huge sport in other multi-sport events. Rugby fans travel and they travel in numbers and they will go to see other events as well," said IRB chief executive, Mike Miller in a statement.

"We feel we can help them achieve one of their aims which is to remain relevant to younger sporting fans."

The IRB's last bid for re-inclusion in the Olympics failed in 2005 following criticism they had not done enough to grow the women's game on a worldwide basis.

But the success of the inaugural Women's World Cup in Dubai is understood to have impressed IOC delegates who attended the event, thus getting the nod for Rio together with golf as karate, squash and wrestling were dropped.

Kenya squad: Andrew Amonde, William Ambaka, Davis Chenge, Eden Agero, Patrice Agunda, Horace Otieno, Philip Wamae, Biko Adema, Lavin Asego, Felix Ayange, Michael Wanjala, Robert Aringo, Collins Injera, Oscar Ouma, Dennis Ombachi, Humphrey Kayange.

- Xinhua

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