Lots to tell! haven't updated this in a while, but not because of lack of activity.... I came back to Malindi in mid February and continued training with the team which actually didn't lose that many players, although three key leaders did graduate and a couple players transfered to other schools. As expected they were crushed at Nationals, but I think it was a great experience for the boys. I focussed a lot more on fitness this year, realizing that to compete at a higher level, especially with those huge teams from up country, will require a great deal of physical play. I also actively lobbied to have more kids allowed to train, we usually had around thirty, and I'm still not sure what the dynamics there... It should be the most popular sport at the school, it's the only one that allows boys to travel outside of the district and now we've been to the Nationals! At any rate, it's a work in progress!
We had long chats with the boys about our goals, and decided we wanted to get to the Nationals again and this time try to win at least one game! A tall order as the road to the Nationals is long, and there are a number of strong teams who want to get there as well... But I told the boys that I was confident that if they worked extremely hard that we could do it.
So I suppose around two weeks ago the boys competed in the district championships, and despite a disappointing 5-0 loss to arch rivals Barani in the first match, the boys played well and stuck to the game plan. There was a bit of collapse and deviation from our strategy against Barani, I've always tried to get them to be very conservative in the early phases, try to suck the other team in a bit and then try our luck out wide, but sometimes whenputunderpressure, the boys start throwing the ball around wildly. There is also this funny hegemony in kenyan coast rugby to "flow" the ball which I think is counter productive. I guess it's what other people might call "hands", but usually involves carelessly launching the ball away from attackers, and I try to discourage it as much as possible. The other thing that really gets on my nerves is the celebrating. We crushed a couple of teams, both physically and on the scoreboard, and I was really disappointed to see the boys' exaggerated celebrations, especially the long ones after the tournament which we didn't win but advanced as the second place team.
Actually there was quite a lot of disorganization at the tournament which was quite disappointing given that the ministry of education has officials whose only role practically is to organize these things. We were told for instance that the tournament would be on Wednesday, and it turned out to be on Thursday, the matches were supposed to start at 8 and they started at 10, one of the teams arrived really late, and one team just left the field after being consistently being beaten, which is why we ended up in second, if they had stayed we would have finished first as we soundly beat galana 21-0 who beat barani 14-0 if i remember correctly. Room for improvement, but the frustrating thing is it makes it difficult to prepare the boys, and get them used to planning things well... At this point we were not training for sevens, but as usual focussed on giving the boys the skills to play their smash-mouth rugby. We had another couple of weeks to prepare for the provincials, and once again focussed on physical conditioning. I tried to organize friendly games with barani, but they never showed. That's another small frustration,waweru seems to think that nobody wants to play exhibition games against us because we are the provincial champs and this would give us an advantage... Bullocks, coast rugby will go nowhere if the boys aren't constantly competing and being exposed to the game.
I'm still trying to raise some money for a trip up country to expose the boys to some seriously competitive teams, I only need 500 dollars more! I was really excited for the provincials, as things were coming together nicely, the boys seemed to have bought in to our system and were fully committing themselves to the taxing training sessions we were running. I had a couple of kids close to throwing up a couple of times, and as a result, for the first time, managed to get them to bring water to training sessions. I was also extremely excited to have a chance to get back to Taita, which I love! It is so nice and cool and green, and I had contacted Nina who hooked me up with the university of Helsinki guest house which has a Finnish sauna and a gorgeous view. I'd stayed there before, years ago when Nina and I travelled to wundanyi together and climbed the Yala. I drove down from Mombasa the morning before the games, just in time to coach the boys to a solid 15-5 victory over a strong St George's. They had beaten us in a sevens tournament earlier, and to be honest, they were the only team I was concerned about! We then went on to win our other two games, 34-0 against Kilifi Township and 37-7 against Baptist.
Pretty much everyone considered us to be strong favorites to win as a result. We were hitting the other teams hard, and then killing them with our speed around the corner, especially from Duko, Kitti and Ndumbo. We had some bad luck, as our most reliable player, ball winner and tackler, Chaka was injured early in the second half of our first game, but we more than compensated with our strong bench, and despite loosing another key player "Biggie" at the start of the next game, and our bench being shortened to three, we still dominated. Chaka was obviously devastated, but with a dislocated shoulder, I tried to convince everyone that it would be better if he healed properly and was available for 15s. We had a quite exiting and tense quarter final against Mavuno which we won with a last second drop goal from Duko basically they were the first team that handled our speed and tackled well, they forced our team to work for what they got and didn't give us any freebies. I think our boys have gotten used to poor opposition and using their speed and strength to either break tackles or run around people, so I'm always happy when someone challenges us and forces us to play better rugby. That set up a semi final against our district rivals barani, who had been having a marvelous tournament including a scalping of last year's sevens champions Hindi in their first game.
We were the most nervous for this game, and resisted the temptation to play Chaka, but I pushed the boys to play our hard pounding game, and we did, and came away with a solid 14-0 win! we were so elated as it meant our ticket to the national championships in kisumu was assured. Problem was that our captain, Zeinya, finished with a horrible shoulder injury on a try saving tackle which left him writhing and howling in pain, so we decided once again to not take any risks, leave our injured players off (all three were eager to play in the final) and give some experience to the young boys. Well, they got it! A big, tough Shimo la Tewa team thrashed us, it was 15-0 before Duko made one of his great grubber aided runs fora try to bring it to 15-5 at the half, and I think it ended 35-5. The boys were devastated, but I was happy as ever, we had an incredible tournament and were off to the nationals for the second time in two years, once for fifteens, and once for sevens, accomplishing our goal once again! Now it's back to the training ground. Duko had a pretty bad bang to the head in the second half of the final, so he'll need to stay away from training for a while, but I've asked waweru to push the boys hard till they can't move anymore, hopefully, a couple of other friends who have expressed interest in helping out, Josh and Alex will come and help out.
We keep building, so I'm doing everything I can to move this thing forward now and keep the momentum we've created. The focus now is on training the younger boys, and seeking strong oposition to play against regularly. Watch this space!!! :)