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Better IRB rankings key to rugby development

Back in 2006 during a board meeting after Nakuru RFC won the Eric Shirley Shield (ESS) and earned promotion to the Kenya Cup League the following year, the management had a huge debate about introducing a second team.

The bone of contention was the budget. Would we afford running two ESS teams? The then chairman Mwangi Mucemi added a twist – can we afford not to have another ESS side?

The math is simple. An IRB ranking above 25 will have direct funding for a High Performance Center from the world governing body. This includes pay for players,  technical assistance and specialised staff training.

To get to this ranking and by extension qualify for London 2015, will be through the most viable plan today – exposing a group of 35 odd players in the South African Vodacom Cup league.

Argentina and Namibia successfully entered their national teams in the Cup during the 2011 edition.

Professionalism 

This exposed them to a professional rugby setting as well as building depth for the teams. Namibia were able to compete in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) with Jacques Burger (now plying his trade at Saracens) being listed among the tournament’s top seven players!

Our biggest hurdle going into the RWC is clearly Namibia. Their brightest players besides Burger are PJ van Lill and WP’s Rohan Kitchoff who play in the Vodacom Cup.

All we need is to expose our players at the same level.

The nine-week programme runs from March 8 to May 17.

The team will be based in Capetown and travel to all fixtures by road. Fifteen core players will be selected for the Cup.

The other 20 (who are either working or are at school) can fly in for two weeks and replenish the squad in batches of 10. This is a much leaner balance sheet than the year long Kenya 7s budget, and whose fruits will be seen faster.

Zimbabwe Rugby Union president John Falkenberg knew his federation could not fund such a project as Vodacom Cup.

He drew up a plan in 2012 to place individual players in pro and semi-pro clubs around the world.

The players were sent to Scotland, France, London and South Africa. This is a cost effective way of achieving exposure. Both Namibia and Zimbabwe realise to qualify and compete in a RWC, you need a top crop of players with professional exposure.

Probably the only amateur side that might play in London 2015 could be Uruguay – but it still has USA to contend with. Luckily, they too have seen increased funding from IRB to help them set up a High Performance Center and bring their players up to speed.

Some players in Kenya cannot afford to be away from work or school, but they can get between two and three weeks to receive proper training.

With the kind of work Richard Ochieng is doing on the strengthening and conditioning front, we are on the right track.

Today, outside South Africa, only Zimbabwe can compete with our second 7s side.

If we cross the 15s rubicon, other African nations can forget about ever catching up with us. We have the biggest number of clubs outside SA and Madagascar.

While Namibia has a population of two million, Kenya has 40 million, a growing fan base and listening corporates.  The High Performance practice should trickle down to the top eight Kenya Cup sides just as strength and conditioning supplementation be part of teams.

More funds and attention will come to KRU and teams if we qualify for the RWC. It everything goes to plan, the fruits of Vodacom Cup will be felt here and abroad for a long time to come.

 

The author, Kirori Mindo is an official of Nakuru RFC