Fans of Kenyan rugby were hoping against hope Kenya Simbas would miraculously turnaround the 65-19 thumping by Canada and deliver against Hong-Kong in the World Cup qualifiers repechage match last week.
It did not happen as Kenya suffered a humiliating 17-42 loss. Rugby pundits had predicted this and fans should have seen it coming.
After Kenya was recently beaten by Namibia, despite the hiring of two coaches from New Zealand- the land of the mighty All Blacks — the writing was on the wall for Kenya.
Kenya, and the Rugby union, can in the usual form wring their hands and engage in blame-shifting or re strategise and build from the ground up.
These is what needs to be done.
1. Development of a Technical Plan: a) Systematic Player Development: The first thing the Union needs to embark on is putting in place a robust system of player development.
Development of players needs to start as early as seven years.
This is the optimal time to initiate the mental/psychological preparation of the players and impart basic playing skills. Sports development theory clarifies that if this stage is delayed past adolescents the resultant skill and attitude gap cannot be adequately closed at club level.
Thus there is need to have a development program at under 14 level and probably targeting the spread of rugby in the public primary schools.
In the late 80s and early 90s, ex-Kenyatta University Blak Blad players under the still existing Damu Pevu club engaged in countrywide secondary school rugby development.
This initiative is largely responsible for the proliferation of rugby playing schools that widened the pool of talent for clubs to recruit from.
Kenyan rugby will only develop to the next level if this “reach-down” player development strategy is extended beyond secondary schools into primary schools.
b) Systematic national team development: The success of national teams is not initially based on wins and losses but should focus more on the development of skills and acquiring of experience through a graduated national team development structure.
My proposal would be to establish a four-tier national team development structure beginning with the identification of a national team at under-16 level, then under-19 which currently exists, followed by Kenya “A” and finally the Kenya Simbas.
An eight year plan would enable us to target qualifying playing in the World Cup in 2027.
We can therein, focus on winning the under-19 Africa competition by 2023 thus qualifying for the Junior World Rugby Trophy and subsequently the World Under-20 World Cup.
2. Development of a High Performance environment:
a) Enhanced Technical Capacity: The game of Rugby has evolved to the point where there are no generalist coaches.
Modern rugby requires specialist coaches to cover areas like the scrum, the backs, kicking, breakdown, defence, attack etc.
Kenya needs a program for developing the capacity of such coaches who will work with the players to build on the skills and technical foundation gained from the under 14s primary level training.
This means that we also need coaches who will identify talent and latent skill at the early ages, lay the foundations and the hand the players over to specialist coaches by the time they attain 14 years.
b) Facilities and Equipment: Facilities for rugby training go beyond a bare pitch; coaches need tackle bags and hit-shields and a hoard of other specialised equipment for sharpening skills.
The competition at world level is such that strength features among the top requirements and body conditioning gyms and trainers are a basic necessity.
c) Player’s Welfare: To achieve maximum returns from players, physical, psychological, sociological, and physiological aspects must be looked into.
Players’ remuneration and allowances cannot be reduced to a bargaining chip forcing players to engage in industrial action. Players need an elaborate medical cover.
Mental health and role of team psychologists cannot be over- emphasised.
3. Development of a commercial plan: To support the eight year technical plan and the high performance environment, there must be a sound and sustainable commercial plan.
Fiscal discipline and accountability from those managing the game, and the venues will open gates for brand investors bringing in the much needed funds to finance the strategic development of rugby.