After Shujaa’s grand return to World Series, experts reveal strategies for staying on top

After a year on the sidelines, Kenya’s sevens rugby team stormed back into the prestigious HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Experts weigh in on how Shujaa can stay in the elite ranks and dodge future relegation.

Oliver Ochieng

The Kenya national sevens men rugby team, Shujaa, made a triumphant return to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for 2025, after defeating Germany 33-15 in a winner-takes-it-all in their playoff promotion quarterfinal tie match in Madrid, Spain, on Sunday, June 2, 2024.

With the win, Shujaa returned to the exclusive club of World Rugby, a year after being relegated courtesy of a 12-7 playoff final loss to Canada at Twickenham Stadium, London, in May, 2023.

After about two decades competing in the series across the world, the relegation proved a bitter pill to swallow for players, coaches and fans but now there is hope going into the future.

“Wow! This is amazing. This brand of new talent gave their all to get us back to the top and we are more than grateful for the belief, support and faith. We celebrate now,” said Shujaa Captain Vincent Onyala.

Shujaa’s victory has thrilled many across the rugby and sports fraternity, especially at home. 

According to Eliud Okwemba, coach of the Koyonzo Secondary School rugby team, Shujaa’s return to the World Rugby Series is a major stride for the team and the country.

“It is a world platform which gives players an opportunity to compete with the best teams from around the world,” Okwemba who has guided Koyonzo to three consecutive secondary school national rugby titles explained in an interview with SPNA.

Okwemba believes this milestone offers hope to young and aspiring players because wearing the Shujaa jersey is a dream shared by every rugby player. He emphasizes that the ultimate goal is to compete internationally.

Curtis Dennis Karakacha, Masinde Muliro University rugby club player, concurs with the coach. He said rugby players in the country have every reason to work hard in order to don the national team jersey, now that Shujaa is ‘back to where it belongs.’

“There are players currently chasing the dream to play for the national team. That was not the case during the time we were relegated, coupled with claims of players not being paid,” added the former Western Bulls, Webuye Rugby and Nakuru RFC player.

However, to keep Shujaaz competitive and avoid future relegation, Okwemba emphasized the importance of taking care of the players’ welfare by ensuring timely payment of salaries and allowances. Additionally, he stressed the need to maintain and support the technical staff.

According to Okwemba, generational gap was one of the reasons Shujaa was relegated. He suggested that this gap needs to be minimized to prevent a similar outcome in the future.

“The issue of the generational gap has been a challenge. After most of the senior players, the likes of Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde, Humprey Kayange, William Ambaka, Collins Injera and Bill Odhiambo retired, they left a huge gap. It made us go back to the drawing board to look for young players.”

“For purposes of continuity, we need to have proper structures so that we don’t have those gaps like it happened last time. If we can maintain that, I think we can keep on competing at the top level for a very long time,” he added.

Shujaa won the main cup at the 2016 Singapore Sevens. The team now joins South Africa as the only African teams in the HSBC World Rugby for 2025.