Kenya Sevens depth took an acid test at Dubai Sevens, the opening leg of the 2018/2019 World Rugby Sevens Series, where the team finished last alongside continental rivals Zimbabwe on Saturday.
There was no reprieve after a poor run the previous day when Shujaa lost to Japan 26-19 in the 13th place semi-final clash at Sevens Stadium, United Arab Emirates.
It was Shujaa’s worst ever performance since the Paris 7s leg of the 2016/2017 World Rugby Sevens Series, where they collected one point after losing in the semi-final for 13th place.
The results means that Shujaa got one point to finish last in the event alongside their continental rivals Zimbabwe, who lost to former World champions Wales 14-10 in the other semi-final for 13th place.
Shujaa lost to Spain 26-19 in Challenge Trophy quarter-final after losing all their Pool "A" matches against Scotland (34-14), Fiji (43-12) and France (21-17).
This was the first time Shujaa failed to win a match in the pool stage since 2014/2015 season at the Dubai, South Africa and Hong Kong Sevens.
It was also the first time Kenya failed to win a match in the Series since the London Sevens leg of the 2011/2012 season.
The poor run was perhaps a rude welcome for the new Kenya Sevens head coach Paul “Pau” Murunga to the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Dubai Sevens was Murunga’s first assignment in the Series as head coach even though he deputised Benjamin Ayimba during the 2015/2016 Series, where they won the Singapore Sevens, Shujaa’s first ever win.
However, Murunga didn’t have the luxury of most of his experienced players like Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde, William Ambaka, Nelson Oyoo and Samuel Oliech, who were away with Kenya Simbas for their 2019 Rugby World Cup Repechage qualifier.
Also missing were Oscar Ayodi, who captioned the team last season, Oscar Ouma, Augustine Lugonzo and Tony Owuor among others.
The going will equally be tough in the next leg of the Series-South Africa Sevens planned for next weekend in Cape Town. The team will have to improve on their tackling and defence that looked porous throughout.
Before leaving for Dubai, Murunga has experienced his fears over his team’s strength and conditioning status after the resignation of Geoffrey Kimani besides the absence of the key players.
However, he was happy to expose more players as he handed four players their Series debut among them scrum-half Brian Wavinya, winger/centre Daniel Taabu, fly-half Johnstone Olindi and forward Charles Omondi.
Dubai Sevens was to have a new champion when Mike Friday’s United States faced New Zealand in the main Cup final. USA beat Australia 22-17, while New Zealand edged out England 7-5 in the Cup semis.
It’s England, who hounded out defending Dubai Sevens South Africa 22-5 in the Cup quarters. South Africa were up against Fiji in the fifth place final duel, while Australia were to meet England for bronze play-off.