The new Kenya Sevens technical director, New Zealander Paul Feeney, wants senior players, who missed last season, protesting over reduced salaries back in the team.
Feeney, who was officially unveiled as Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) technical director on Friday, disclosed that he has been having discussions with the union’s top brass on what has been going on and hopes for an amicable and lasting solution.
Some of the senior players who did not feature last season include Collins Injera, Oscar Ouma, William Ambaka, Dennis Ombachi, Oscar Ayodi, Billy Odhiambo, Samuel Oliech, Dan Sikuta and Eden Agero.
KRU chairman Oduor Gangla said Feeney has been handed a three-year contract.
“As a coach, you would love senior players to play for many reasons including results, helping young players and mentoring,” said Feeney adding that he is positive that they will be involved but emphasised on the need for discipline and hard work.
However, the 56-year-old former Fiji Sevens and Western Province coach, said he will use whoever is available in his immediate task - the Africa Sevens qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics planned from November 9 to 10 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Feeney’s other short term goal is to help Kenya Lionesses also qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during the Africa qualifying tournament slated from October 12 to 13 in Tunis, Tunisia.
Feeney said he will not seek to change the flair and culture that is synonymous with Kenya Sevens team but analyse what has been working for the country while looking to reinforce their strengths while polishing their weakness.
“We shall keep what resonates well with the team,” said Feeney, who paid tribute to Kenya for producing world class beaters despite meagre funds with the game still being amateur.
“Kenya has on several occasion punched above its weight for instance when they win Singapore Sevens in 2016,” noted Feeney but hastened that the momentum has not been sustained.
Feeney explained that he will now have to find a solution to ensure the team is a regular main Cup quarter-final and semi-final performer besides winning several legs in the World Series in the near future.
Feeney said he will also find ways to blend both the 15s and sevens versions to produce strong teams across.
“This is a great opportunity to handle such a brilliant and exciting team that oozes a lot of talent. It’s a great challenge but we like it that way,” said Feeney, who described Kenya Sevens team as unique.
“Knowing players transition will help me create a smoother base that will produce a win-win situation for both the 15s and 7s teams,” explained Feeney, who was the skills and backs coach at Super Rugby outfit Stormers.
Gangla said Feeney’s role will not only see him head the Kenya Sevens team but also assist Kenya Simbas head coach Paul Odera in strengthening the 15s team structures, National Under-20 (Chipu) and Kenya Lionesses.
Gangla said outgoing Kenya Sevens head coach Paul Murunga will be redeployed elsewhere but the rest of the Kenya Sevens hierarchy remains with Kevin “Bling” Wambua staying as the deputy.
Gangla said that he believes Feeney’s vast experience in rugby spanning 25 years and especially 10 in sevens rugby where he guided Fiji to World Cup victory in 2005, should spur Kenya to great heights.
Feeney, who guided Fiji to the 2005 Rugby Sevens World Cup victory, signed a three-year deal with Western Province and the Stormers in South Africa towards the end of 2016, having handled the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand.
A well-travelled coach, who also worked in France and Japan, Feeney had a one-year stint as Blues' skills coach under Tana Umaga, before heading to Western Province, South Africa.