Kenya look to brothers in arms
A few seasons ago Kenya travelled to tournaments as Sevens giant-killers. They arrive in Las Vegas as Sevens giants.
Since taking over as coach, former captain Benjamin Ayimba has done wonders with the team alongside the likes of Felix Ochieng and Manager Oscar Osir, introducing a defensive steel in addition to the team's obvious attacking flair and pace.
Of all the teams competing in Wellington last weekend, the Kenyans were by far the most experienced with 261 tournaments between them. Compare that to the second most seasoned side Samoa with 254 (61 of which against the name of Uale Mai) and then New Zealand with 161.
Throughout the country's upward climb a few players in particular have played key parts. Lavin Asego's intelligence and steady kicking has been one crucial factor, so too the lithe running and natural pace of Biko Adema and the muscle and bustle of Victor Oduor and Innocent Simiyu.
But two players, perhaps, stand out on their own - and they happen to be brothers.
Last season, wing Collins Injera and captain Humphrey Kayange were simply outstanding, so much so that both were shortlisted for the IRB Sevens Player of the Year award. England's Ollie Phillips was eventually announced as the winner, but that two brothers received Kenya's first international award nominations was a matter of huge honour.
"Our family is very proud of us," Kayange told Total Rugby. "My mum really goes over the roof and my dad walks tall wherever he goes and they support us to the fullest, giving us advice to keep pushing and improve.
"The last thing Dad told us before the start of the new Series was 'Go and do better than last year and you'll win Player of the Year, which you missed last year', so for him it's a really big thing, and also for my youngest brother who's coming through the ranks as well, he really looks up to us in the game.
"Im sure it's the same for everyone else, your family has to be right behind you when you go out and represent your country."
To do better than last year is a tall order, especially for Injera. His 42 tries proved to be the leading mark across all of the competing nations, although he has started this season well enough, touching down 17 times already in the first three events in Dubai, George and Wellington - second only to kiwi Sherwin Stowers.
"Sevens back home is really a shining light, everyone wants to be associated with the team," added Kayange. "We've struggled with the problems back in the country but whenever people take a look at what the Sevens team is doing they are proud of it, we're the pride of sport in our country, competing very much with athletics.
"It's very competitive too. There are young players coming through who are really hot on our heels. Some of us are thinking about 2016 (Olympics), some won't be around, but when you see the 17-year-olds coming through, some of them bigger than us, we're just waiting to guide them into the team, show them some direction and let them be."
As well as leading his country to sixth place in the World Series on the pitch, including a first ever Cup final in Adelaide last season, Kayange's own personal rugby CV has also expanded away from the pitch.
In 2009 he was a key member of the IRB's seven-strong bid team which successfully put the sport's case to the IOC and ultimately guided rugby back into the Olympic fold.
"The game is going to change and it's interesting that for us we've got a lot more backing at home.
"In Kenya we have now been very successful and I think we've proved the IRB right to have put us in the Series for a few years.
"We're doing well and I'm sure all the other smaller rugby nations look to us as an example of what is possible. We've learned the ropes and now we can play with the big boys, and come out victorious."
Always the darlings of the crowd, Kenya are sure to have a massive following in Vegas. On day one at the USA Sevens, they face pool matches against Samoa, Scotland and Chile.
Source - http://www.irb.com/