In April 2016, Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde, Samuel Oliech, Nelson Oyoo and Willy Ambaka (pictured) helped Kenya win their first tournament title on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series after 140 tournaments and 17 years of trying, at the National Stadium in Singapore.
And now, two-and-a-half years later, the quintet could make history again, albeit in the 15s format, if Kenya qualify for their first Rugby World Cup.
While all five players are regular top-level performers on the world series – Injera is second in the all-time list of try-scorers and he and Andrew Amonde have made over 700 appearances between them – their experience of test rugby is limited.
Ambaka, for example, only made his 15s debut for the Simbas in the latter stages of this year’s Rugby Africa Gold Cup, but his impact was instant in scoring doubles against Tunisia and Namibia.
As well as offering speed, power and athleticism, Kenya head coach Ian Snook believes the sevens stars have just as an important role off the pitch at the RWC 2019 global repechage tournament in Marseille which will decide who joins New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia in Pool B in Japan next year.
“The sevens boys will provide a greater 'worldliness' to the group and will be helpful in our month away for the repechage games as they have handled these situations before," Snook said.
“Also, they are used to being on the 'big stage' which should bring about a calmness and confidence amongst the group. They are pretty good players as well!”
The Simbas will be captained in France by back-row Davis Chenge, who led the Simbas in all five of their Gold Cup matches this year, only experiencing defeat in the final game against Namibia which saw the Welwitschias book their place at RWC 2019 as Africa 1 and sent Kenya into the repechage.
Chenge has played both formats of the game, appearing on the world series between 2012 and 2014, and would love for 15s in Kenya to gain wider recognition.
“In Kenya, rugby sevens is the higher performer, so we want to get 15s to that stage, too, and qualify for the Rugby World Cup. It will open up opportunities for players and the country as a rugby nation," said Chenge.
As well as becoming the third African representative in Japan alongside South Africa and Namibia, Ambaka is also acutely aware of how big a deal qualification would be for rugby in Kenya.
“Everybody wants to play in the Rugby World Cup, but I am also thinking about the young guys coming up,” he said.
“Kenya 15s qualifying for the Rugby World Cup, I believe, will change everything for Kenya rugby.”
The Simbas will launch their bid to make it to Japan against Canada on Sunday, before meeting Hong Kong six days later. The Simbas will wrap up their campaign against Germany on 23 November.
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