Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Malindi 15s District Champions 2013 Debrief

I’m happy, and a little sheepish to report that Malindi High are the District champions for fifteens this year.  I made a big fuss at the start of the tournament about the quality of the field.  I’ve said it before in this blog, I understand that we are in a country with few resources and sometimes we have to make due with poor conditions.  But I think by no means should we ever accept putting children’s safety at risk.
The field we played on at Barani High had trees growing inside the end zones on both sides, on one side of the field there was a construction site with ruble sprayed throughout the field including sharp gravel and the field itself had large areas with bare stone sticking out. Malindi High has two perfectly safe pitches!  For some reason, not sure if it was pride or laziness, the other coaches didn’t want to move the games and accepted the risk of seriously injuring players.  After agreeing with all the coaches, I got the Malindi and Barani Headmasters to agree to move the games to Malindi High but then the coaches from Gede and Muyeye said they had already paid for meals at Barani High and couldn’t move.

I would say the tournament was characterized by a high number of injuries, and I would think the poor condition of the pitch had a lot to do with this.  I would call this a great shame, I was worried on at least two occasions that my players had been concussed due to head collisions in stony areas, and I saw players inadvertently run into trees several times at high risks to themselves. I think it is shameful, and I call on any rugby/school board people who are reading this to take action or at least advise me on how we can change this.  I have already noted that players in Kenya generally play without boots or mouth guards, which is not only dangerous to themselves but to others as well.

The tournament itself was interesting, in the first game, Gede beat Barani in the first surprise of the day.  I watched some of the game and to be honest it wasn’t rugby, and as Barani is the perennial favorite in this district, I was sure we were going to win every game by at least 30 points. Our first game was against Muyeye who is usually big and hard but not that skilled.  Last year I tried to get them to train with us in the summer, but perhaps due to lack of coordination but maybe due to politics it didn’t work out.  I truly believe that in order for Malindi to be strong, they need to have strong competition to challenge them and push them to the next level. 

Muyeye did their best, and they were as promised huge and probably quite over aged (more on this later). I was extremely proud of our boys.  Regardless of the fact that Muyeye was punishing them and often (almost always) offside, our boys stuck to the game plan and continued to punish them with disciplined and well thought out rugby.  Our team has a number of form twos and only five form fours, where as most of the other teams play exclusively with form fours and they managed to thrash the bigger and older Muyeye (who I thought at this point was the best competition) 25 – 0.

The next game was interesting.  I pulled out three players who came to me with injuries (two of them experienced form fours) and juggled the line up a little.  Waweru (the official coach who was in and out that day) had asked me to stick with a strong starting lineup, but I made decisions based on the injuries and stuck with them.  I could see that the players were a bit uneasy about this, and they showed it on the field to my frustration.  Two awkward bouncing balls later and we were down by two tries.  The team was in total disarray.  The marvelous organized attacking rugby we had showcased in the previous game against a better team had disappeared.  I even received a phonecall from Waweru asking why I had not played the senior guys, someone must have called him to complain.  Some players yelled from the sidelines saying that their teammates were not good enough and should be substituted, I was incensed! The team was self distructing and at the root of it was ugly direct bickering and internal criticism.

It wasn’t all bad, we missed a couple of easy kicks but got a couple as well and it was 12-6 at half time.  But I was incredibly disappointed because in my view the boys had beaten themselves.  They somehow didn’t have confidence in themselves and gave up, it was hard to watch.  After telling them what I thought (that in fact they were the better team and were beating themselves) I put the two form fours back in and we proceeded to dominate the second half, but we never returned to the organized and quite pretty “champagne rugby” we had played in the previous game.  It was more like a street brawl, and we appeared to adopt the style of the poorly coached Gede.  At some point we managed to pull back a try but despite being inside their twenty two almost the entire half, the game ended a disappointing 12-11. 

The boys were destroyed morale-wise. I got quite upset on one hand and told them what I thought about their collapse, and also told them that they would probably win the tournament at any rate, as Muyeye would probably wipe the floor with the other teams.  Waweru came back to me later and told me that these Giriama boys can only play while they are ahead, and not from behind.  We had quite a debate, and I told him that they need to learn to come back from being behind if they are to be a strong team!  Good teams should have that kind of character and teams that I grew up playing on prided themselves in that very characteristic!

At any rate the next day’s game started with Muyeye beating Barani, and then us beating Barani in another street brawl 3-0 (I was equally unimpressed, we again mimicked their primitive style) and then Muyeye played Gede to a 0-0 draw.  The tournament had typically poor refereeing.  Granted it is very difficult to ref poor quality rugby (what do you do if people are always offside and always knocking the ball forward and don’t even know most of the rules!).  But Muyeye should have scored on a few different occasions but were hampered by the ref/conditions.  They decked the ball for tries on two occasions before passing the end line as the fields were poorly marked (there were no try boxes).
In the end we would have finished behind Gede who finished with 2 wins and a tie, but apparently Gede did not submit the right documents for their players.  

They did not have team lists and birth certificates (which should be relatively easy to get at a gov’t school) to show that their players were under 19 which is this year’s new requirement.  I would suspect that both Muyeye and Gede had players who were over 22 to be honest, we should have beaten them anyway, but I am somehow happy that we are through to the next round (County championships in two weeks) and that we can learn from our mistakes.  I believe that if we work hard, we should be able to dominate the Counties and the Provincials and make a decent showing again at the Nationals!  More later… but please someone help me out on this safety issue, if we want rugby to grow in a healthy way in Kenya, this really should be addressed.

 No try box and trees in the end zone, the line closest to you is not 4 metres
 Construction site right on the sideline, there is rubble right on the touch line and plenty inside the field
 Trees growing in the endzone and chopped wood 2.5 metres from the try line
Hard to tell here but stone sticking out, you can just see it, it occurs in many places in the pitch! One of my players was probably concussed at this spot.
Our team!  District champs! :)Anthony Kiti in the middle was last year's captain!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seasons changing!

I just got back from another extended stay in Djibouti to do my usual stint, coaching the club for the rugby season with Waweru. Last summer I managed to train a bit with some of the boys in July in August while I was here, and it was great, but due to the teachers strike in September, our plan for a tournament up country was foiled!

This year presented us with a new major challenge.  It seems the Kenya secondary schools sports association (KSSSA) has decided to change the schedules around, moving 15s rugby to the first term and 7s to the second.  This poses three major problems for us.  

First of all, fifteens is quite a complex game, and this means that our district championships are this week, just over a month after the students report to school.  It really doesn't allow for us to prepare the boys technically sufficiently for the tournament.  I'm not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but at Malindi High, where the intake comes from mainly rural areas, some of the kids tend to report late. For one, the form ones only started reporting this week.  Uninformed rugby players are dangerous rugby players.  This increases the risk of injury.  On some level, having the 7s before the 15s championship worked because the rules are a lot simpler and you could get away with managing fewer players at the beginning and the others could catch up while watching the senior players play.  The situation has been made worse now by the addition of an extra tier to the championships.  I suppose as a result of the constitution, we now have to compete in the "County" Championships after winning (Munguakipenda) the districts, then we move to the provincials and the nationals.  In past years we tended to play the 7s districts in early - mid March and then played the provincials end of March. Now we are having to play our first and seminal 15s tournament in mid February!

Secondly and most importantly, the boys can not possibly be physically prepared for the games in time with this new schedule.  Rugby is a very physically demanding sport, and is physical preparation is vitally important, without sufficient preparation, you risk serious injury.  My biggest nightmare is not my team, which is made up of students that luckily I've had the honour of coaching over the last years and have had good habits instilled in them, but the other teams, who being slightly less organized, will probably have had a couple of weeks to bring the form fours up to speed.  Physically unprepared players are dangerous to themselves and to the opponents they face, and I am sincerely worried for my players this week.

Finally, I really don't understand the logic in  playing rugby during this time of year in Kenya!!  It is the hottest and driest, and the most likely to cause injury.  Rugby (except maybe in north america which has arguably the worst rugby in the world) is usually played during the coolest and wettest periods.  When you play in full summer, the quality of the pitch deteriorates (in this part of kenya it tends to be sand and thorns!), the risk of dehydration increases and the risk of serious injury, especially concussions is multiplied. For this reason alone, I would urge the KSSSA and anyone vaguely concerned for the well being of young rugby players in Kenya to push the 15s tournaments to May-June-July, the wettest and coolest months throughout Kenya.  Ideally, the Nationals could be played at the end of July, with the provincials mid July and the Districts and County tournaments being held in June.  This would give much more time for the players to prepare, and have them playing in the period when it is safest to play rugby.  High school rugby is already plagued in Kenya by lack of equipment, many teams we meet don't have proper equipment, regularly players play (as often documented in my blog) without boots, certainly without mouth guards (I don't believe I've ever seen one on the coast) and often with trees growing in the pitch and dangerous fences in the end zone. I see no need to further put players health at risk by having them play unprepared during the most physically challenging season.

I sincerely hope that we manage to change this, as I believe strongly as educators and coaches, that the students wellbeing should be our formost concern.  I would appreciate assistance in lobbying for this, so please contact me through the blog if you can assist!