The 20th edition of the Safari Sevens took place on 3/4 Ocotber at the safaricom Stadium in Kasarani, Nairobi. Admittedly, crowd attendances drastically dipped but that was not going to dampen the competition which was this year further spiced up with a total of 14 foreign sides joining the two Kenyan sides Shujaa and Morans in the quest to hold aloft the Robin Cahill trophy awarded to the cup final winners.
Day one saw the preliminary round of matches played across the four pools.Home teams Shujaa and Morans came into this year’s tournament shorn of key players but would still have to live up to the expectations of their demanding fans. Head Coach Benjamin Ayimba and his assistant, Paul Murunga selected relatively young squads with a tinge of experience in the form of old hands Andrew Amonde and Biko Adema. They also included Willy Ambaka and Eden Agero to their squads and went on to register decent performances on day one.
Shujaa registered two wins on the trot to all but secure a cup quarter final berth with a game to spare while the lesser fancied Morans started by claiming fancied Zimbabwe’s scalp by way of a 12-10 win before going down 12-29 to Samurai. They would beat Uganda 36-0 to force a three-way tie in their pool,only missing out on the cup quarters because of their head to head record against table toppers Samurai.
Away from the local sides, Samurai, Western Province, England Saxons and Newcastle put in impreious displays of sevens rugby as they too breezed into the cup quarters alongside Spain and Zimbabwe.
The stage was set for the knockouts on day and it was the lower tier bowl quarter finals that opened up the day’s proceedings. A lot was expected of Uganda, more so after exciting the crowds at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The Rugby Cranes would tumble to the shield competition after losing 22-21 to debutantes Brazil who will play host to the sevens competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
.There were four potentially exciting cup quarter finals on the cards but the opening two fixtures failed to live up to their billing as Western Province and Samurai whitewashed their opponents. Western Province stopping the Australian Iconz 38-0 to set up a date with Samurai who met little resistance from the England Saxons, posting a 40-7 result.
The other two quarter finals were closer contests, Kenya’s Shujaa leaving it late to defeat Newcastle Wailers 19-5 while Zimbabwe edged Spain 14-10.
The cup semifinal fixture between Samurai and Western Province was in the eyes of many a pundit the final before the final. Samurai won this fixture, only just, the 21-19 result seeing them through to a third cup final at the Safari Sevens, having lost out in 1998 and 2011.
Shujaa and Zimbabwe met in the second semifinal and many thought that it would follow the same script as the previous match but Shujaa dominated Daniel Hondo’s Cheetahs, shutting them out en route to a clinical 24-0 result, setting up a dream final against a Samurai side with three Kenyan players in its ranks and coached by former Kenya Sevens and current USA Sevens Coach Mike Friday.
And what a final it was. Ignacio Martin’s quick-fire brace put Samurai 10-0 up before Biko Adema converted Andrew Amonde and Augustine Lugonzo’s tries to see Shujaa lead 14-10 at the break.
Exciting Kenyan prospect Frank Wanyama extended Shujaa’s lead with an unconverted try before Samurai’s Kenyan players Sammy Oliech and Oscar Ouma scored unconverted tries to secure a maiden Safari Sevens tite for the international invitational side.
Western Province would recover from their semifinal set back to claim third place with a 29-12 win over Zimbabwe while the England Saxons left it really late to edge Spain 24-19 for the plate title. Kenya’s second string Morans lifted the bowl with a 26-12 result over Portugal as Zambia upset pre-match favorites Uganda to claim the shield title with a 14-10 win.
Crowd attendance was low, but for two days, the fans who attended were treated to exciting rugby sevens action. The field for this year’s tournament boasting the highest number of foreign teams since its formative years in the late 1990s. The Kenyan teams performed beyond the expectations of many who had their misgivings about the squad.
Head Coach Benjamin Ayimba’s charges did not disappoint and definitely savored the moment to play in a high pressure environment as part of their build up for the upcoming Olympic Rugby Sevens African qualifiers in South Africa on 14/15 November.
Coming back to the tournament, it is hoped that,moving forward, the Safari Sevens continues to attract more quality teams whilst endearing itself to the fans who had over the years embedded this tournament in their social diaries. It has been done before, it can be done again.
That was the Safari Sevens in 2015.
This article first appeared on the Kenya Rugby Website.