Kenyan rugby sevens team made national history by winning the 2016 World Sevens Series tournament in Singapore. While Kenya has had a strong rugby sevens team, winning this tournament against all rugby powerhouses was a huge achievement. Kenyans will now have high expectations for the team at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Rugby sevens will feature for the first time.
Rugby Sevens is a mini format of Rugby Union, played with seven players on the field, instead of 15 in the full version. The size of the field is the same, though. The duration of one sevens game is just 14 minutes, a fraction of “real” rugby game. Sevens rugby is essentially a tournament-based format.
The World Sevens Series has been played since the 1999-2000 season. New Zealand has been a dominating force winning most editions. South Africa is also one of the strongest teams, often finishing second, but has never managed to win the series.
The interest in Sevens Rugby has grown steadily, culminating in its inclusion at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Rugby has not been an Olympic sport since 1924 (the last tournament was won by the United States, meaning they are the defending Olympic rugby winners!), but now makes return in sevens form.
Kenya has a long tradition in rugby, but it has never qualified for the Rugby World Cup, although they were close to making the latest 2015 tournament. Instead, it is sevens rugby where Kenyan flag has been riding high.
Since around 2003 the Kenyan sevens team started performing well, consistently finishing around 10th in the World Sevens Series for the next five seasons.
Then at the 2009 Australia Sevens Kenya reached a tournament final for the first time, but lost to South Africa. That year Kenya finished 6th in the World Sevens Series, and finished third at the Rugby Sevens World Cup.
But the next year Kenya’s performances started faltering. The 2012-2013 season marked a remarkable comeback. At the New Zealand Sevens the team made their second ever final appearance, losing to England only at extra time. Kenya finished 5th in the World Sevens Series, above the likes of England and Australia. The team reached semi-finals at the Rugby Sevens World Cup, like they had at the previous edition four years before, but now losing the third place final.
Last season (2014-2015) Kenya finished only 13th, their worst performance in a decade.
This season (2015-2016) has been another great comeback year by Kenya. After winning the Singapore tournament, Kenya sits seventh on the standings, with two tournaments still left. Defending series winners Fiji are close to repeating the feat, but South Africa lies second still hoping to clinch their first ever title.
With Olympic Games only few months away, the latest achievement will raise Kenya’s prospects at the tournament. While not prime favourites, they will be serious medal contenders. Even if Kenya fails, there is a good chance that silverware goes to the continent, as South Africa will field one of the strongest teams. Thanks to surprising nature of the sevens game, almost any qualified team may carry the day and take the gold. We are waiting for a very exciting Olympics rugby tournament!