|The Malindi High 7s team after the District tournament, just couldn't get them disciplined or committed this year!|
We found success and disappointment at the same time at the Kilifi county tournament at St Georges. I arrived to find that we had been drawn the most difficult pool. We were in a pool with Galana (aforementioned feared team) and Mariakani, meaning our pool of three probably had three of the top four teams in the tournament. There were two other pools with four teams each, and I was a bit disappointed as I’m always looking for more experience for our players, in the end, if they made it to the finals they would only play 70 minutes of rugby! At any rate, I spent time discussing with Waweru, Chibudu and the Captain (Salim) the different options for lineups and personel changes and we agreed that we would like to try to get as many changes in as possible as there was a long road ahead before the Nationals and there was a large possibility for injury.
The first game was a surprise 10-0 victory for Mariakani over Galana which only served to intensify my fear that we may not make it to the next round. The format of the tournament had the first two teams going through as well as two of the best third place teams, but it was virtually impossible for the third place team from our group to make it simply on the basis of not playing as many games. Mariakani was strong against us as expected, apparently they had a couple of players that play at Mombasa sports club and it showed. They were well organized and almost always managed to move the ball all the way across the field with ease. We beat them though with our sheer fitness advantage and the final score was 12-0.
Galana was thus playing like a desperate team against us, a loss to us would mean and end to their tournament. They played well as expected against us, and unfortunately, as usual, when Malindi High is under pressure, they forget all of the training, tactics and strategy we’ve discussed over the last three months (for some of them three years!) and start playing this street brawling coast rugby with millions of knock-ons! I decided to make some changes at half time to put on two of our fastest players on the wings and players that had bought more into our system. Both are better at kicking and this would have been the perfect antidote to the heavy pressure Galana was putting on our line, but the substituted players and Zeinia (an ex-player and last year’s captain that had accompanied us) heavily protested and in the end no changes were made. In the end Waweru decided not to make the changes even though we had agreed to them before hand.
I was incensed. In the end, nothing changed in the game, the boys continued to play low quality rugby and the match finished a 0-0 draw. The result was good in that we finished first in our pool and eliminated Galana, but for me it was a disaster as 1) I had been undermined in my decision making 2) we basically played only 7 players in the first round of the tournament and I was hoping to play everyone in the first round and 3) and possibly most importantly, we were winning but not playing even decent rugby. If we wanted to represent the coast at the nationals, we had to play solid tactical rugby.
The team immediately broke down after the game and all the players started yelling at each other, blaming each other for the poor result. I came to them, calmed them down and told them that we needed to be positive, that the result was good in the end, but that we needed to analyse what was wrong and fix it. I also told them that I would not accept dissention, especially during the match, and if they didn’t like the decisions I was making, I would quite happily relinquish decision making responsibilities to someone else. I said the same thing to Waweru privately, I was quite disappointed as I really felt that we had the potential to achieve quite a lot as a group, but as usual, panic turned to disorganization and if we continued on this familiar path, we would not get anywhere, especially against extremely well trained, orgainised, focused, committed and disciplined teams like St Georges who had been destroying the teams in their group by at least 30 points without conceding any tries. The organisation, focus, commitment and discipline was exactly what we lacked.
I stayed the night in Mombasa, and came back in time for our first game which was against the second place team in the other group. I discussed lineup options with Waweru. I wasn’t in agreement with what he had decided which was to generally stay with the first team the whole way through. He was quite nervous about making it through, but my approach was more to trust the players. In my view they were each one as good as the other, to be honest, the skill level was low across the board but everyone’s fitness was pretty good. The one factor that differentiated them was their speed and he actually was not playing the fastest team.
We just needed to check on a couple of injuries, and when we brought one player over he announced to us that it had already been decided that he wouldn’t play and he told us about a couple of other changes the players had decided on… I was pretty upset especially because we had been spending so much time discussing these issues, and apparently they had already been decided. I sort of felt like my input wasn’t necessary or appreciated since nobody took the time to tell this to us, and it was announced to us as the players were about to take the field! At that point I simply withdrew and allowed them to do what they wanted. The results were predictable. They barely beat a pretty shabby team again playing their street fighting rugby and then barely got by Mariakani again I think something like 5-0.
I left at that point as I was still pretty upset and didn’t feel like contributing to a team that didn’t appreciate my contribution, also, their advancement was secured to the provincial (regional) tournament as both finalist go through. They were crushed in the final 34-0. This was the disappointing part for me… the goal all along was to be the best team in the province, and we can’t even pretend to be close when we don’t win all of our games in the counties and get completely crushed like a bush league team would in the final! Waweru said the boys basically had it in their minds that they couldn’t beat St Georges and it showed. I’m sure they could if they played the type of rugby we’ve been training.
This whole situation has led me to some soul searching. I think this whole year I’ve been writing about the fact that I have been disappointed in this particular team in terms of especially discipline, focus and commitment. We did ask them what their goal was and it was to win two games at nationals, so I took them at their word and tried to push them to a level where they could achieve that. Unfortunately the team was not ready to train at that level, and I’m trying not to be upset with them, because my commitment was sound. I invested quite a lot into having them be successful only to be lied to, and disappointed throughout the process.
I really feel like finding another team to coach… but I suppose this is just a dud year and I should find a way to lower my expectations. I guess I got excited by the continued success and upward trajectory we’d seen in the last three consecutive years. Perhaps the formula of having kids train earlier in mass (form 1s and 2s) and routing out the bad habits from the beginning will help. I promise never to put up with any player who thinks he’s better than the rest and doesn’t come to training or feigns injury. It’s time to mold these guys into real rugby players and to stop looking at them like students from the coast that need to be babied! Hopefully the newly established club will help with that!