Limping Shujaa Face Relegation Threat, South Africa Thrive In Vancouver

Mar 11 - by Mutwiri Mutuota for SportPesa News

Kenya 7s slump to 13th place semi final defeat to collect only a point from Canada 7s, slipping to 14th as African rivals collect first series title of the season

Kenya's Charles Omondi charges through the Australia defense on day two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Vancouver on 10 March, 2019. PHOTO/Mike Lee/KLC fotos for World Rugby

  • Traditionally, Shujaa has hit top gear at the Asian leg of the series but following limp performances in Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Las Vegas and now Vancouver where Paul Murunga's team left with a paltry point, local fans will approach the seventh and eighth rounds of the series with trepidation
  • The two teams had never previously met in a Cup final and Pierre Gilles Lakafia’s early try forced South Africa to come from behind but they stood up impressively, putting three converted tries on France before conceding again
  • Will Muir’s pair and Tom Bowen’s score gave England the advantage but Madison Hughes and Ben Pinkelman brought USA back in it. Steve Tomasin drove through for a try on the hooter and Hughes’s kick sealed victory

NAIROBI, Kenya- With only 18 points from the opening six legs of the 2018/19 HSBC World Sevens Series, free-falling Shujaa face the real threat of being stripped of their Core Status unless their performances drastically improve at the Hong Kong (April 5 to 7) and Singapore (April 13 to 14) legs next month.

Traditionally, Shujaa has hit top gear at the Asian leg of the series but following limp performances in Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Las Vegas and now Vancouver where Paul Murunga's team left with a paltry point, local fans will approach the seventh and eighth rounds of the series with trepidation.

Kenya 7s last went six series legs without making the Main Cup quarters over a decade ago, back in the day when winning the Bowl or Shield titles used to be cause of celebration but having risen to be two-time Rugby Sevens World Cup semi finalists, Shujaa are no longer expected to be competing for scalps.

In 2016, Shujaa fulfilled what they had threatened when they came back home with the Singapore 7s title but that landmark achievement has not been built on with the team struggling to manage its transition following the turnover of senior players.

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Only last season, the team surpassed their record Series tally, ending the campaign with 102 points but no sooner than the dust settled than the man who lead the charge and former captain, Innocent 'Namcos' Simiyu was shown the door and Murunga came in.

Simiyu himself took over from his former coach and another past Shujaa skipper, Benjamin Ayimba, who led the team to the Singapore 7s crown and the 2009 RWC semi.

Reports of disenfranchisement in the squad have been simmering, with every limp performance further fueling the discontent between the playing unit and the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) whose officials are busy campaigning for positions in the upcoming elections.

To recap, Shujaa wrapped up their Canada 7s with an embarrassing 14-22 loss to Japan in the 13th place semi-final to collect only a point that saw them drop down a place in the standings, with only the 'might' of Japan, Chile, Tonga and African debutants Zimbabwe keeping them from bottom in the 18-nation competition.

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Having dropped to the Challenge Trophy following their exit from the Main Cup competition from Group B, Kenya found no respite earlier Sunday when Australia wiped off their disappointment of missing out on the quarters by whitewashing Murunga's team 7-47, with Daniel Taabu notching the only five-pointer for Shujaa.

Against Japan, Bush Mwale landed the first try giving Shujaa an early 7-0 lead that was short lived as Japan responded with two tries in quick succession in the first half with Naoki Motomura notching a brace for a 7-12 advantage at the breather.

In the second half, Kameli Raravou and Dai Ozawa scored a try each extending Japan’s lead to 22-7 with two minutes left on the clock. Shujaa got their consolation try in the last play as Shaddon Munoko sped through the defense scoring his first center post try at the HSBC World Sevens Series on his debut.

Elsewhere, South Africa claimed their first tournament victory since Paris last season by beating France 21-12 in the final of the Vancouver 7s.

The two teams had never previously met in a Cup final and Pierre Gilles Lakafia’s early try forced South Africa to come from behind but they stood up impressively, putting three converted tries on France before conceding again.

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Selvyn Davids ran more than half the field to set up Impi Visser beneath the posts, Werner Kok stole the ball to set up Davids three minutes into first-half overtime, before Kok got on the scoresheet himself on the left-hand side.

Stephen Parez scored a late consolation try — the 295th of the weekend, the most in a stage this season — with a remarkable run down the left, but it wasn’t enough to get his side back into the game.

Incredible turn

It marks an incredible turn of fortune for France, who picked up just one point in Las Vegas last week, reaching their first Cup final since Port Elizabeth in 2012.

South Africa players celebrate the Cup Final win over France on day two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Vancouver on 10 March, 2019. PHOTO/Mike Lee/KLC fotos for World Rugby


But they could not overcome an impressive South African side, who will look to use this performance as a stepping stone to retaining their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series crown.

South Africa captain Philip Snyman said: “It was a much-needed win for our team and I think the boys played some fantastic rugby throughout the tournament. I’m really happy with the win and hopefully we can build on this one now.

“There’s a lot of talent in this group and back home and I can’t wait to see everyone together as it was only a matter of time before this team started to gel. They showed glimpses this week of what they can do and I believe there is a strong squad coming through.”

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Selvyn Davids, the HSBC Player of the Final, added: “We knew France were going to come for us. I wouldn’t have achieved this if it wasn’t for my team so thanks to them. We’ve a lot of youngsters but like the coach said, if we can gel together then anything is possible.”

Reigning Vancouver champions Fiji were simply too skillful for USA to seal third, completing a 24-14 victory in the Bronze Final.

They dominated possession for the first 90 seconds and made it count, Alesio Naduva found in space on the right wing. He was soon beaten by Kevon Williams as USA took the lead, but a beautiful one-handed offload from Naduva set up Terio Veilawa before half-time.

Sevuloni Mocenacagi strode back inside for a perfect running line before Carlin Isles made Fiji pay for a tackle in the air, using the man advantage to dot down in the corner.

But with his side back to their full complement, Jerry Tuwai created a break and found Vilimoni Botitu on the left to put the result beyond doubt.

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Fiji produced a match worthy of the Cup final as they beat New Zealand 22-21 in the Cup quarter-final. Sam Dickson put the All Blacks Sevens ahead before Josua Vakurunabili hit straight back.

Tim Mikkelson ensured New Zealand were ahead at half-time but Aminiasi Tuimaba’s double either side of the break and Naduva’s try ensured Fiji progressed.

They took the lead against South Africa in the semi-final through Tuimaba but Stedman Gans and Davids helped turn the game on its head, scoring before the break with Justin Geduld and 19-year-old Muller du Plessis ensuring their spot in the final with two late tries.

USA were asked to come from a 19 point first-half deficit in both their knockout matches, succeeding against England in the quarter-final but falling short against France.

Will Muir’s pair and Tom Bowen’s score gave England the advantage but Madison Hughes and Ben Pinkelman brought USA back in it. Steve Tomasin drove through for a try on the hooter and Hughes’s kick sealed victory.

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-Additional material from World Rugby used in this report