This year’s Tusker Safari Sevens which had been anxiously awaited finally arrived, and brought with it the home crowning of the national rugby sevens team.
Kenya’s sevens team has dazzled crowds in different parts of world, upsetting big names in the recently concluded IRB Sevens series.
The growing fan base had tracked the team’s sterling performance from Dubai to Edinburgh where the team were on a giant slaying mission.
This past weekend, thousands had a chance to watch the team on home soil at the Rugby Football Union of East Africa (RFUEA) grounds.
Figures from the tournament organisers say about 10,000 fans attended this year’s event.
And many did not leave disappointed as Kenya convincingly retained the trophy, running over the Emerging Boks, South Africa’s second string side, 40 – 19.
The fans were treated to tantalising rugby.
The star attraction— Collins Injera— did not disappoint, leaving opponents clutching thin air in his wake. A
nd of course there was the usual social fanfare were alcohol freely- flowed.
But as the weekend hangover slowly clears, and hopefully the infatuation with rugby turns into true love, the big question for the tournament that is fast shaping to be Africa’s premier sevens tournament is: “what next?”
Rugby enthusiasts say it is high time the main teams from Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa graced the tournament.
They would provide stiffer competition and add variety and unpredictability to the tournament compared to the invitational sides .
“It is pointless for Kenya’s first team to be playing in the tournament,” says Benjamin Ayimba, the coach of the sevens team. “Most of the teams are bringing their second string sides.”
Samoa, France and South Africa brought development sides for the 2009 Tusker Safari Sevens.
Kenya also fielded two other teams which included the second string side and a team of upcoming players in their early 20s.
Argentina, which beat Kenya in the semi-finals of this year’s Rugby Sevens World Cup, pulled out in the eleventh hour citing another commitment and lack of prize money.
To attract such teams, Ayimba estimates a prize money of between Sh10 million and Sh15 million.
Safari Sevens originally was designed to serve as a development tournament for African sevens teams where they would play emerging sides, mostly from northern hemisphere where no prize money was awarded.
In the formative years of the tournament, which just celebrated the 14th edition this past weekend, the purpose was well served.
But its stature has now grown in leaps and bounds far exceeding expectations.
Ideas have been floated to have the Tusker Safari Sevens brought on board as the ninth leg of the IRB sevens circuit.
This would mean that top teams would flock the country to take part in the tournament. The trickle down effect would be immense as jobs and business opportunities open up.
But the big question is whether or not sports would cough up the cash to allow Kenya to host the tournament.
Also, there are concerns whether the country has sufficient infrastructure to host the tournament.
The RFUEA grounds is said to meet the minimum pitch requirements but does not have the capacity to accommodate large crowds.
Indeed, this past weekend the stands were jam packed with little room to move around in the stands.
Moi International Sports center Kasarani has been proposed as an alternative venue though this would place the sport at a crossroad because the RFUEA ground has gained a sentimental edge among the rugby fraternity.
But it would be foolhardy to allow sentiments to stand in the way at a time when Kenya is on the threshold of building an international brand in sevens rugby.