The number of COVID-19 cases in the Country has continued to rise casting doubts on if the virus spread will be contained soon.
Should it not be contained in time, the Kenya Rugby season will be affected. How should the Union decide the way forward in case the situation persists? Cancel the season and start afresh? Pick Champions or wait? Scrummage spoke to Impala Director of Rugby Fred Ollows and former Blak Blad and Kenya Simbas coach Michael Tank Otieno who gave their take on which decision should be taken should the COVID-19 pandemic go beyond the 15s season.
Ollows believes that the campaign cannot resume immediately after the COVID-19 is contained. He says teams will need time to regain their momentum before heading to competitive rugby.
“COVID 19 has disrupted the season and if we have to start again it is no longer the same season. The rhythm that teams had gained is gone and it’s unlikely that the Union will start the season where it stopped. You have to give people time to regather their capacity,” he stated.
He explains if the pandemic persists the best option will be to cancel the season and start off afresh in 2020/21. Though he admits that Strathmore, Kabras and Shamas will be hard hit by the decision, he adds that picking a winner will be unfair to other teams in the playoffs, giving an example of Kisumu who became Champions in 2019 despite a fourth-place finish in the regular 15s season.
“The way I see it, the most sensible thing that can happen is to most, unfortunately, call off the season. Each generation has its disruptions and ours is the COVID-19. Most sadly for people like Strathmore who were having a good season. There has been a lot of effort for teams like Kabras and Shamas throughout the season so there will be a lot of disappointments if it is called off but the question is how then do you decide the Nationwide winners and the promotion?” he added.
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“If we had gotten to semis it would be different but for now, you can’t declare a winner in Nationwide, Championship or Kenya Cup. Last season we saw Kisumu who finished fourth in the regular season get promoted to Kenya Cup. That is the complications that come with playoffs and knock out, if it was a league it would be different. We have teams that will argue that they had planned for the knock out stage,” he concluded.
Season can still end
Tank Otieno on his part has a different opinion, he believes that with only three weekends remaining before the Kenya Cup, Championship and Nationwide season ends, the organizers should be patient and ensure they end the season instead of cancelling it. The former Kenyan International is aware that finishing the 15s season will affect the calendar but he insists that it is important as the 15s season is at a crucial stage.
“I don’t have a problem with the league ending, the league should resume (after COVID) and all the Union should do is to give teams some two weeks to get back in shape. It would not be right to cancel or decide the winner especially after all the teams put in the effort to reach the playoffs. If you decide to pick a winner which format will you use? We had reached a stage where the league was ending and its only three weekends to end the season so my opinion is that it will be fair to finish the season” he says.
The tactician says the issue will now be either to shorten the 7s season or have the 2020/21 season pushed backwards after the 15s ends.
“The problem is that we might be forced to shorten the 7s season or push backwards the 2020/21 season. We might also have a short preseason heading to the new season. This means teams will not be able to prepare well for the new season,” he noted.
Just like Ollows, Tank feels that gaining momentum will be an issue for the teams and the coaches cannot prepare their players on the technical part of the game. According to the coach, teams which are handling players well during the forced break will perform better after the resumption.
“It quite unfortunate and I wished that my this (COVID 19 pandemic) could have happened in May after the season. It has disrupted training at a very crucial time and when you are a coach you periodize the team to peak at the semis and finals. Even if we resume there is no way a coach get will achieve the momentum in two weeks. Its, however, a disadvantage to all teams. It will now depend on how the coaches are handling the players at his period,” he said.
The season was suspended on 13 March just before the Quarters.
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