Coach ‘Namcos’ Simiyu’s two-year contract with Kenya Sevens ended last October. Many expected him to re-apply for the job, but the former Impala player didn’t. Simiyu shared his thoughts with Nation Sports writer Geoffrey Anene on Kenyan rugby, his coaching tenure, and more.
Q: You decided not to reapply for your job as Kenya Sevens coach. What informed the decision?
A: It was a good two years. My contract was ending in October 2018 and our terms of engagement were clear on the renewal process. There was a clause in the contract that stated that before the contract ends, we would negotiate for renewal. We met before the contract ended, but there was no formal communication on follow-up from Kenya Rugby Union (KRU).
When I saw they had advertised the position, I understood this to mean they had already made up their mind, so I did not re-apply. Kenya Rugby Union decided to advertise the positions. It was a clear message they did not want to renew my contract and I respected their decision. Secondly, the structures we had put in place were being slowly removed. We had missed the pre-season window. As KRU stated, they were facing financial challenges. I trust by now things have improved and they are okay.
Q: Tell us about your first year in charge of Kenya Sevens. At the beginning, some people doubted your abilities...
A: The experience was good and challenging. Our focus was to put in structures in year one (we called it “foundation year”) that would ensure consistent performance at the Sevens World Series by the players and management. Culture change was big for us, instilling a high performance culture, a culture built on values. We spent most of the time setting up and getting things going from staff, training grounds etc. We enjoyed some good memories as a team.
Q: How would you describe your second year as Kenya Sevens coach, particularly regarding the World Series?
A: It was a good year, too. We started fairly well with a good pre-season. We managed to attain our targets consistently at training and during our games. We got some good results, too: We collected 104 points at the end of the season, collected two silver medals (Vancouver Sevens and Hong Kong Sevens), and gold medals in Victoria Cup Sevens and Safland Sevens. We won the World Rugby Fair Play award.
Our captain (Oscar) Ouma was in the Dream Team, Billy (Odhiambo) got DHL Impact Player award in London Sevens, Collins (Injera) and William (Ambaka) also made it to the tournament Dream teams. We won silver medal in the Africa Men’s Sevens. We basically reaped what we had sown.
Q: Kenyans had high expectations from the team in the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens. What do you make of Kenya’s performance in these two events?
A: We were hired based on a four-year plan leading to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Our 2017-18 season plan was to have two peak points - the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup. Our plan was solid but we failed to properly handle the unexpected, and the chaos off the field, which interfered with our preparations.
For the World Cup, we lost five weeks of preparation due to politics. Note that I was fired and reinstated two weeks to the tournament. At the Commonwealth Games, we got five knock injuries in the first 16 minutes of the tournament. Our plan was to travel with 15 players and we didn’t, due to financial challenges that could have mitigated the risk. We played with 11 players due to administration hiccups.
Q: Who is to blame for the disastrous outings in Gold Coast, Australia (Commonwealth Games) and San Francisco (World Cup Sevens)?
A: No one is to blame. We should have handled these things better. As we try to improve the environment, we must appreciate its current state.
Q: Local coaches handling national team(s) are paid low salaries compared to foreign coaches. Why is this is the case?
A: It is hard to pinpoint the reason why. Its how you negotiate your value, the availability of resources is also very important and neo-colonialism mentality of our leaders is a factor in Kenya.
Q: How much was your salary as Kenya Sevens coach?
A: Just enough to feed my family.
Q: Let me take you back to the last two legs of the 2017-2018 World Sevens Series. What warranted Shujaa blanking the ‘Make it Kenya’ Brand Kenya logo? Many Kenyans thought the team was being patriotic.
A: The issue was between the employer and employee, about money owed to players and how it was used. But it was later resolved.
Q: When KRU advertised your job as Kenya Sevens head coach, you touched on something to do with finances when responding to a message from former Kenya Sevens coach Mike Friday who wanted you to stay on. What was that about? Did KRU ask you and the technical bench to accept a pay cut in order to keep your position?
A: KRU did not officially renegotiate. They just asked after advertising if we are willing to renegotiate, but nothing formally happened after that.
Q: How can KRU convince sponsors to come on board to support rugby?
A: KRU leadership has to focus on values and package the products well: Money will come. Rugby in Kenya is growing at a good pace, especially women’s rugby is a goldmine. Its potential is bigger than the men’s.
Q: Recently, former Kenya Sevens captain Humphrey Kayange was appointed to the Board of the Kenya Academy of Sports Council. What do you think of his appointment?
A: It is very good and a big congratulations to him. He is a natural leader and he will add a lot of value, having been at the national team for over 10 years and also having been at Bristol University in the United Kingdom. I believe this is the best way to change sports in Kenya, start from the academy level.
Q: The current Kenya Sevens squad has many new names. Is it a good thing to have a lot of young blood coming through?
A: It’s not an issue of age, but who perfoms and executes the plan. Every player has his own pathway, some will make it when they are young others older. You have to give the coach room to operate. I know Paul Murunga will do well if the environment is right, he has been very successful at the local series.
Q: Many Kenya Sevens stars missed the Africa Cup Sevens in Tunisia. Was it a case of unavailability or were there issues they felt hadn’t been addressed?
A: Most were unavailable due to 15s assignments and injuries.
Q: What do you make of our new Kenya Sevens technical bench of Paul Murunga as head coach and Kevin Wambua as his assistant?
A: I wish them all the best and pray they take the game to the next level.
Q: We have been used to Kevin Wambua handling the national women’s team (Kenya Lionesses) as head coach. Is it a gain to Shujaa and a blow to Lionesses?
A: Personal growth is good. It gives an opportunity for someone else to take over the Lionesses team and to build on Wambua’s work.