Kenya’s arrival in Montevideo for the second round of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 this weekend was delayed by a missed connecting flight.

But Lionesses captain Grace Okulu is determined to make sure that those travel travails – which meant the team spent an unplanned night in Brazil – do not ground their hopes of making a second successive Challenger Series final.

“Apart from the hiccups that we got when we were in Brazil,” Okulu told World Rugby, “the team is ready, we’re all focused.

“What’s happened to us, we just took it as a challenge.”

Okulu and her team-mates eventually landed in Montevideo on Tuesday and have switched their attention to the upcoming challenge at Estadio Charrúa, with their sights set firmly on finishing the Challenger Series inside the top four and securing their place at the HSBC SVNS 2025 promotion-relegation tournament in Madrid.

Kenya finished as runners-up in the first women’s tournament in Dubai in January, following a roller-coaster three days at The Sevens Stadium.

The Lionesses beat China in the pool stage but lost to tournament debutants Czechia hours later. Having gained revenge on the European nation in the quarter-finals and subsequently beaten Argentina, they missed out on the gold medal courtesy of a 19-5 defeat to the Chinese in the final.

Events in Dubai, like their impromptu stay in Brazil, have been parked ahead of the weekend but the Lionesses have learned from their experience at The Sevens Stadium.

“I’d say we have a confidence of 99-plus [per cent] because it was only small things that made us not win against China [in the Dubai final]," Okulu said.

“And definitely the coaches and players have dedicated themselves to reviewing our games and looking at what did not work for us.

“The big lesson is that we have to get switched on in the game from the first minute, and we have to learn how to maintain the game and take each minute and each game at a time.

“Like, we don't have to focus on the finals when we haven't even finished the pool games.”

Chasing SVNS dream

In Montevideo, Kenya have been drawn alongside Belgium, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong China, teams who finished fifth, ninth and 10th respectively in the opening round.

The Lionesses did not face any of those three teams in Dubai, but Okulu is well aware of the challenge that each will pose in Pool B.

“They are not new teams, we have played with them a couple of times but not in the recent two or three years,” Okulu said. “It's been a while since we played against them.

“The challenges are going to be there. We have just analysed their videos, watched what they're doing and come with a strategy for us that will work for us.

“But, you know, a team will always surprise. We might be watching this [footage] and they come with a new plan. So, we have to adjust to what they will be doing.”

Okulu is grateful for the support of Kenya’s men’s sevens squad, who are also competing in the 2024 Challenger Series and is certain the close ties that have developed between the teams can help their respective quests for promotion.

The Olympian, who has played at two previous World Series tournaments, has been watching HSBC SVNS 2024 and is in no doubt about what qualification for the 2025 series would mean to her and her team-mates.

“I would be the happiest person just to play at the HSBC [SVNS], which is the top, most high rugby series in the world,” Okulu said.

“Sevens is the HSBC… and it would be a great honour. Definitely, the standard would need to be very high because I've watched the games, I know what it takes just to maintain the status of being top 12 at the HSBC.”

China unchanged in Uruguay

Dubai champions China will begin their bid for back-to-back Challenger Series titles against Paraguay at 13:20 local time (GMT-3) on Friday.

China will then take on Czechia and Poland in Pool A. Lu Zhuan’s side met both European nations at The Sevens Stadium, beating the former 30-7 in the pool stage and the latter 31-10 in the quarter-finals.

Zhuan has been able to select an unchanged squad for the second round of the series as they aim to take another big step towards finishing in the top four of the standings and securing their place in the relegation-promotion tournament in Madrid between 31 May-2 June.

In Pool C, Dubai bronze finalists Argentina and Uganda will face each other again, following the South Americans’ 36-10 win at The Sevens Stadium that secured third place.

Their rematch is scheduled to be played at 11:37 local time on Saturday, by which time both teams will have also played Mexico and Thailand.

Having made the short trip across the water, Argentina will hope to make the most of the relative home comforts in Montevideo and go at least one better than they achieved in Dubai.

Argentina coach Nahuel García has been able to welcome Mayra Aguila back into his squad after the experienced back missed the opening round in Dubai.