SINGAPORE RUGBY SEVENS 2016

Rugby: Kenyans dazzle to stun Fijians

Left: It's wefie time for the victorious Kenyans, holding the trophy and wearing their gold medals. Below: Nelson Oyoo shaking off the challenge of Fiji's Amenoni Nasilasila to score Kenya's fifth try in their 30-7 pummelling of the series leaders in
It’s wefie time for the victorious Kenyans, holding the trophy and wearing their gold medals. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Left: It's wefie time for the victorious Kenyans, holding the trophy and wearing their gold medals. Below: Nelson Oyoo shaking off the challenge of Fiji's Amenoni Nasilasila to score Kenya's fifth try in their 30-7 pummelling of the series leaders in
Nelson Oyoo shaking off the challenge of Fiji’s Amenoni Nasilasila to score Kenya’s fifth try in their 30-7 pummelling of the series leaders in the final. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

E. Africans make it look easy as they capture first Sevens leg but Boks and All Blacks slip up

In the middle of the National Stadium field, the Kenyan players gathered in a circle with their arms interlocked behind them, falling to their knees and singing a hymn.

Miracles do happen on a Sunday it seems, as a slice of Kenyan sporting history was carved last night at the Singapore Sevens.

The East Africans defied their past, ignored pedigree and rejected reputation to capture their first HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title with an improbable 30-7 victory over Fiji, the planet's best team for the past 18 months and reigning Sevens Series champions.

Despite the sight of a spectator dressed as a wizard in the 27,370 crowd, there was little to suggest a fairy tale was about to occur.

This was Fiji's 59th Cup final, of which they have won 30. Kenya have played in two Cup finals (the last in 2013) and lost both. In 29 past meetings between both teams, Kenya had lost 28 and failed to score in seven of those games.

  • THE FINALS

  • CUP

    Fiji 7 Kenya 30


    PLATE

    New Zealand 21 Samoa 26


    BOWL

    Scotland 14 United States 10


    SHIELD

    Wales 7 Russia 24

But the only statistic that mattered was 25; the number of seconds it took for Kenya's Oscar Ayodi to break through the middle and open the scoring.

Winger Collins Injera's brace was followed by one from Samuel Oliech to send Kenya into half-time with an incredible 20-0 lead.

Injera, named man of the match later, said: "We've come from really far and to get this win is an amazing feeling. To beat Fiji in the final makes it even more special."

Fiji had won in Hong Kong last week and were leading this season's standings but looked stunned despite coach Ben Ryan's best efforts to rouse them during the one-minute interval.

Star player Jerry Tuwai's try after the break stirred the Fijians briefly before Kenya, who remarkably missed all six attempted conversions, added another two tries to seal a milestone moment for the country, which has found consistency this term and are seventh in the table. They joined traditional rugby giants South Africa as the only Cup winners from the continent.

The significance was huge, said coach Benjamin Ayimba, even as the well-wishes - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta tweeted his congratulations - were pouring in.

Ayimba said: "It'll encourage the kids out there (in Africa) to want to play rugby. This gives them a lot more heroes, people to look up to."

There was plenty to admire about the Kenyans and their strategy, noted Fiji coach Ben Ryan, whose side needed last-minute tries in their quarter and semi-finals against Australia and South Africa respectively.

It was his first Cup final defeat with the South Pacific team in 10 appearances but he was gracious despite the setback. He added: "They suffocated us. They were incredibly physical in the breakdowns and did a brilliant job at counter rucking... Under pressure our boys didn't think clearly enough."

Nevertheless, thanks to the poor results by South Africa (third) and New Zealand (sixth), the Fijians have extended their lead to eight points. They have 147 points, ahead of South Africa (139) and the All Blacks (135) with the final legs in Paris and London next month before turning their attention to the Rio Olympics in August.

Gold in Brazil is no longer a dream but a realistic target, said Kenya's Injera.

"We've taken a good step towards it by winning this tournament and we just have to keep building on it."

His interviews done, he joined his team-mates for a lap of honour that lasted almost 30 minutes. None of the Kenyans wanted the moment to end. Given what they had accomplished, who could blame them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Kenyans dazzle to stun Fijians'. Print Edition | Subscribe