Tokyo — Shujaa will face Ireland Tuesday (kick-off 11am Japan time, 5am EAT)) with more than just the ball and try line to focus on.
They will also have calculators ready, hoping to get their mathematics right as they struggle to sneak into the last eight of the Olympics sevens rugby tournament at the Tokyo Stadium.
If the Kenyans left themselves with a hill to climb after falling 14-19 to USA in their opening Pool ‘C’ match Monday morning, then they now have a mountain to scale Tuesday, thanks to their 5-14 loss to South Africa in their second game Monday evening.
With just 90 seconds on the clock and Kenya leading 12-14 agaist USA, Willy Ambaka knocked-on at the try-line, handing the advantage to the stars and stripes who gleefully touched down on the opposite end through skipper Madison Hughes to take the all-important lead.
Steve Tomasin’s try sealed the game 19-14.
Speedster Carlin Isles – a 10.1 seconds 100 metres sprinter who hopes to make the US team for next year’s home World Athletics Championships in Eugene – touched down for the early advantage at 2:17.
Then, at 4:47, it was 12-0 for USA after Hughes converted Martin Iosefo’s try, but then Collins Injera tore through to reduce the arrears 11 minutes to the buzzer.
Eden Agero converted for a 12-7 score at half-time.
On resumption, Simiyu rested Billy Odhiambo, bringing on Jeff Oluoch and two minutes later, Alvin Otieno replaced Vincent Onyala.
It seemed to work as Oluoch’s try kicked over by Agero handed Kenya a 14-12 lead.
And when Ambaka broke clear to touch down, the Kenyan bench was up celebrating, but a video review by match referee Jordan Way of Australia judged Ambaka to have lost control and dropped the ball.
Play shifted the other way, handing USA the advantage and all-important try and conversion.
In their second match against Blitzbokke, Shujaa were 0-14 down by the fourth minute after converted tries by Selvyn Davids and skipper Siviwe Soyizwapi.
Branco du Preez kicked both over.
A consolation, unconverted try by Collins Injera brought some respect but it was too little too late as the South Africans resorted to match management to wind the clock down.
With eight of the 12 competing teams making it into the quarter-finals, Shujaa will depend on a huge win over Ireland to make the last eight.
Coach Simiyu conceded it was a slow start saying they gifted the Americans easy tries, and also rued Ambaka’s missed chance to seal the game against USA.
“We started slowly and we gave them two soft tries, but the boys managed to dig in and get back into the game.
“I believe we had a key moment with 90 second to go to close the game and we didn’t manage… If it’s time to close, you close it… “
Against Blitzbokke, Simiyu regretted some unforced errors and turnovers that cost the team dearly.
“We were unfortunate to have a couple of errors in our game and we need to polish up for us to get the results that we want,” Simiyu said.
“We have one more chance to qualify against Ireland tomorrow (today) morning, and we will be giving it our all.
“For now we are still falling short on a couple of things, especially ball retention which is key to the game.
“Our target is two tries per half and we are still short.”
South Africa captain Soyizwapi said it wasn’t an easy African derby match.
“Two African nations and two physical nations… Kenya always brings it to us and we expected it,” he said.
“They love the physical stuff and we are just happy that we could get over this one because we didn’t play the way we like to play.”
Meanwhile, former Shujaa coach Mike Friday, who handles the USA team, was full of praise for Kenya yesterday after the Americans’ victory over Shujaa.
“The Kenyan boys always play with heart, desire and they’ve got a lot of talent,” he said.
“We knew it was going to be very difficult, very tough and the Kenyan boys didn’t disappoint.
“That game could have gone either way. I’m proud of the American boys that we were able to go past such a tough, talented, physical side.
“I’m very proud of my boys but I’m equally proud of hopefully what Kenya will do as well. They’ve got a big opportunity, a big chance in this tournament and I hope we can both move into the knockout rounds – it was a tough, physical game.”
Nicknamed “Otoyo” in his Kenyan coaching days between 2012and 2013, Friday said knowing Kenya’s players gave him a slight edge, but noted that it also played to Kenya’s advantage.
“It gave them (Kenya) an edge because they always have always raise their game when they play me…
“They always have something special for Otoyo and they didn’t disappoint…
“Ambaka was physical, Amonde came on and made a difference, Collins is always Collins, Eden Agero has grown into a big man… He was a skinny man when I had him – he’s a handful!
“Then to see the likes of Nelson and Jeff… they are formidable and they are showcasing Kenya in exactly the way it should be showcased.”
Friday, 48, described their group as “brutal” and wished Kenya luck against South Africa.
“We have a tough game against Ireland this afternoon and you (Kenya) get an opportunity to go against South Africa who have their own woes and concerns to worry about,” he added, alluding to the fact that some Blitzbokke players had earlier been quarantined as part of the organisers’ Covid-19 compliance procedures.
“They (Kenya) showed in that game how physical they can be and how much pace they have as a team.
“They should be excited and confident about what’s going to be a brutal two days… any team from 11 can win this tournament. Just because you had adversity on game one doesn’t mean you can’t prevail.”
In today’s earlier group game, South Africa beat Ireland 33-14.
New Zealand 50 South Korea 5
Australia 19 Argentina 29
New Zeland 35 Argentina 14
Australia 42 South Korea 5
Fiji 24 Japan 19
Great Britain 24 Canada 0
Great Britain 34 Japan 0
Fiji 28 Canada 14
South Africa 33 Ireland 14
USA 19 Kenya 14
USA 19 Ireland 17
South Africa 14 Kenya 5