The national men’s sevens rugby team built up momentum towards the Tokyo Olympics as they stepped up training at Team Kenya’s base in Kurume City, Japan. The team was boosted by the arrival of Russia-based Willy Ambaka who joined the rest of his teammates to make a full house on Wednesday.
Shujaa arrived in Kurume on Sunday and had a day of rest before starting slow training on Tuesday and stepping it up with more work on the pitch on Wednesday.
“I think the first session you will expect guys to be a bit rusty, because of the travelling, the humidity and adjusting to the conditions here and also the sleep quality. So there are a lot of housekeeping stuff that we have to do outside the pitch to ensure that we can build on the training performance. But we are happy that we are out and we have started our preparation,” head coach Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu said.
The two-week training period in Kurume City will help the players adapt to the hot and humid conditions in Japan to ensure they are well acclimatized and ready to tackle the competition when Rugby action kicks off on July 26.
“For us the events are usually fixed, is just for us to react to them, so we are quite clear, that’s why we came for an acclimatization camp, so that we can adjust to these conditions. For us we like the heat, so it will be not cold, it is just an issue of adjusting to the humidity and the wind. But we are quite happy and ready to go,” Simiyu further said.
His sentiments were echoed by skipper Andrew Amonde who said the players are psyched up and ready to tackle the competition once events start.
“I believe everyone is focused and ready for the competition. The players are looking towards competing and bringing medals to the country. So far so good in training. We are trying to acclimatize and build the momentum and by the 26th we will be ready,” said Amonde.
Shujaa are placed in Group C for the Olympic Games where they will face off with perennial rivals USA, South Africa and Ireland. The top two teams from each pool advance to the quarter finals and will be joined by the best placed number three teams from across the three pools.
Shujaa’s preliminary target is to ensure they progress to the Main Cup quarter finals to keep themselves in shape for medal prospects.
“At the Olympics all pools are difficult, you don’t expect any easy game. If you look at the last Olympics, japan played some very good rugby, they managed to beat the All Blacks and get to the semis,”
“So for us it is a game at a time and it is more important that we hit our standards early and playing our game, showcasing our Kenyan talent and brand of rugby. So, we will be very keen on how we start and how we build on that and hopefully we see who will come out of the pool,” coach Simiyu stated.
He has also said that the Kenyans will not underrate Ireland despite them looking like the underdogs in the competition, noting they will give 100pc in all the three games.
The team will hope to hit the right notes despite the failure to have many international test games to help them prepare due to the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus across the whole world.
The team had been scheduled to travel to Los Angeles for a final preparatory tournament, but called off the plans to shield players from possible COVID-19 infection. They have been at bubble-training for the last one month before traveling to Kurume.
The tactician is also crossing his fingers that all his players remain negative to ensure they are not eliminated from the competition off the pitch.
According to strict World Rugby Rules, the absence of up to six players will lead to the expulsion of a team. With contact tracing and the need to self-isolate, even one positive case can mess up a team’s plans.
“We really have to take the precautions and follow the guidelines from back at home, world rugby and also here in japan and Kurume City. So for us, adhering to those guidelines and taking precautions will play a key factor in ensuring that our boys play and play at a very good level,” said the coach.
Shujaa did not perform well at the last Olympics in Rio where they failed to battle for a medal, but Simiyu remains confident the squad at his disposal currently can do better.