Kenya Lionesses might have finished their 2018 Dubai Sevens with no win but coach Kevin “Bling” Wambua must walk with his head high.
From being thrashed in their rare appearances at the global stage, mainly invitational tournaments, Olympics and Commonwealth, to matching with the world’s best in Dubai, these girls are developing just at the right pace. Slow but sure pace.
In April this year, Lionesses were blown apart 47-5 by world champions New Zeeland’s Black Ferns during Club Games in Gold Coast. They couldn’t match up with the Islanders pace, power and skill but in Dubai, they gave as much as they received.
It took the brilliance of Women’s World Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Bride and another nominee Kelly Brazier to subdue a determined Lionesses side boasting of six debutants, many of whom this was their first trip out of the country.
The score might have been huge but comparatively, it shows a team that is maturing and developing under the tutelage of Wambua.
Wambua dared to step off the beaten path and handed debuts to Stanbic Mwamba’s Sarah Oluche, Impala’s quartet of Diana Awino, Anne Goretti, Stella Wafula and Christabel Tata and Sophia Ayietta of Homeboyz.
The rookies did not disappoint as they squared up to fancied opponents, many of whom have played for almost a decade at this level. This should be a solid foundation for the team as it prepares for the upcoming series qualifier in March next year and Olympics later in 2019.
It’s also instructive to note how the leadership team led by skipper Philadelphia Olando has stepped in the shoes left behind by Doreen Remour, Celestine Masinde and Janet Awino, the hitherto backbone of the team. Sinaida Aura, Sheila Chajira and Olando have taken over the mantle and are increasingly proving to be the solid rock the team is built around.
Youngsters like Grace Adhiambo and Janet "Shebesh" Awino exhibit clamness, skill and good game management that belies their age and experience.
I tend to believe that if Wambua is accorded enough support from Kenya Rugby Union, and the girls are exposed to that level of competition more often, then it will be just a matter of time before we become a core side at HSBC World Sevens Series.
We await to see what decision KRU will make in January now that Wambua has been named the assistant coach of the men's team under Paul Murunga.
Away from Dubai Sevens, KRU must intentionally commit itself to developing women’s rugby in the country. It should work with regional development officers (RDOs) to identify, nurture and promote this talent into world beaters.
KRU’s Nick Abala is doing his bit in organising the annual women’s league but more has to be done. He must proactively link up with RDOs in regions like Western, North Rift and Coast and encourage local stakeholders to form community clubs to keep school girls in the game.
At the moment, girls who take up the game in school find no clubs willing to accommodate them in those areas. In fact, away from Nakuru, Nairobi and perhaps Nanyuki, thanks to Dennis Gem, there’s no any other club willing to give women’s rugby a chance.
Rugby is a resource intensive sport but I believe with proper plan and strategy, clubs can rope in commercial partners to help in funding the women’s sport in various areas. These clubs can then form a league that will run parallel to men’s providing national team selectors with wide pool of talent to choose from.
I believe it’s through a well-coordinated and funded age-grade/schools programme that we can develop a formidable team that can blow away any opponent on the continent and match up against teams from Tier One nations.
I can’t sign off this column without mentioning Kenya Cup. In last week’s column I had pointed out the frailties in KCB’s scrimmaging and forwards play, perhaps the reason of their slow start to the 2018/2019 season.
On Saturday, I was at The Den when they emphatically responded to their critics with a comfortable 33-13 win over a flailing Stanbic Mwamba. And they did this in some sort of cruel efficiency from their much criticised forwards.
They mercilessly pummelled the Mwamba scrums and lineouts with former Kenya Seves skipper Andrew Amonde standing out with his tackles and hard runs. They came out to pass a message. The message is home. KCB’s dominance is far from over, or is it?
Another team that I had predicted to be chopped from the premier rugby competition in the country Blak Blad also responded with a convincing 32-19 win over Mean Machine. It’s going to be an interesting season.
Will we have another upset this weekend?
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