Can Kenya translate sevens success and reach Rugby World Cup?

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Collins Injera (right) in action for KenyaCollins Injera (right) has been a star player for Kenya's rugby sevens side for over a decade
Dates: 1-10 July Venue: Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, France

Collins Injera wants Kenya to try and replicate their rugby sevens success in the 15-man game as the East Africans aim to reach a first ever Rugby World Cup.

Kenya have played at the past five Rugby Sevens World Cups, reaching the semi-finals in 2009 and 2013, and are one of the core teams competing in every tournament of the annual World Sevens Series.

The Simbas are one of eight countries taking part in July's Rugby Africa Cup, a knock-out tournament which will guarantee the winners a place at next year's Rugby World Cup in France.

The runners-up, meanwhile, will feature in a four-nation intercontinental qualifying event.

Injera has been a star in Kenya's sevens squad for the past 16 years but he has switched his focus this season to 15s in a bid to make history.

"It's where I started my career," the 35-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.

"I think coming back and giving it another chance to qualify for the World Cup is good.

"For me, towards probably the last days of my career, qualifying would be such a big, big thing. I think there is a great vibe around the camp, and we're just eager and ready to go."

Currie Cup experience

The Rugby Africa Cup kicks off in the south of France on Friday, despite some opposition to it being held outside of Africa.

In order to prepare for the event, where they will take on neighbours and arch-rivals Uganda in their first game, Kenya featured in the second-tier of South Africa's Currie Cup as a guest team.

The Simbas only won three of their nine matches, but Injera says participation was very beneficial to the squad.

"I think there's a big difference from when they left here and went down to South Africa and came back," he said.

"You can tell from how they're thinking about the game and from their physical appearance."

With no margin for error, Injera says the team is fully aware of just how much rests on their encounter with Uganda in Aix-en-Provence on Saturday.

"We're really focusing on that first game against Uganda, because we know it's a knock-out tournament. If you don't win that, you don't continue."

Sizing up the competition

Friday's first two quarter-finals, in Marseille, feature three teams who have played at the Rugby World Cup in the past.

Zimbabwe face Ivory Coast after Namibia take on Burkina Faso, the only one of that quartet not to have appeared at the finals.

Namibia have qualified for the past six tournaments while Ivory Coast's sole World Cup campaign in 1995 was blighted by a terrible spinal injury to Max Brito which left him paralysed.

The Zimbabweans were invited to represent Africa at the inaugural tournament in 1987 and also qualified as the continent's only representatives four years later.

The other half of the draw sees Kenya and Uganda joined by two other teams aiming for a first ever finals, as Algeria face Senegal.

Damian Stevens in action for Nambia at the 2019 Rugby World CupNamibia have played at every Rugby World Cup since 1999 but have lost 22 of their 23 pool matches - with one match awarded as a draw following cancellation

Three-time champions South Africa remain the only team from the continent to have won games at the World Cup but Injera thinks the level of the game is improving despite some African nations concentrating on sevens in recent years.

"If you [take away] South Africa, it's getting very competitive," the nominee for the 2008-09 World Sevens Player of the Year award explained.

"It used to be South Africa and then Namibia, with Zimbabwe here and there, but I think right now all the teams are competing. You can see now Senegal and Algeria in the qualifiers.

"I really hope that it's going to be that way because if we really have strong African 15s set-ups, then we can be able to compete with the likes of South Africa and New Zealand.

"I think sevens is good - it's there because of the vibe and everyone loves it - but I think 15s is the way to go."

Growing the game

Collins Injera in action for Kenya at the 2020 Olympics in TokyoInjera played for Kenya at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

The highlight of Injera's career so far was winning the Singapore leg of the World Sevens Series in 2016 as he scored two tries and was named player of the final as they beat Fiji 30-7.

For Injera, the dream of getting to the World Cup is not just a personal one - as he believes qualification would provide a huge boost for rugby in Kenya and "grow the game".

"When the team won the Singapore Sevens, you saw how it blew up," he said.

"Now every school everywhere, guys have an understanding and are playing sevens.

"But the main focus will be to think of the 15-a-side because that's where the main sport is. If we qualify it will mean a great deal.

"This is my third time to try and qualify. So hopefully it'll be third time lucky."

The winners of the quarter-finals will meet in the last four on 6 July, with the final on Sunday 10 July in Aix-en-Provence.

The prize for lifting the Rugby Africa Cup will be a place alongside New Zealand, hosts France, Italy and Uruguay in Pool A at the tournament.

If Kenya are to make it to France next year, it would provide a fitting swansong to Injera's long service for his country on the rugby pitch.

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