With the absence of 2017 Champions Menengai High School, Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) National School Sevens title is up for grabs when Term 2 games kick off on Monday 23 July 2018 in Eldoret.
Four past champions; St. Mary's Yala and Maseno School both from Nyanza, Laiser Hill Academy from Rift Valley and Western's St. Peter's Mumias who share eight titles among themselves will all be in Eldoret to contest the open title.
Five-time winners Maseno School (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2014) returned for a stab at the National title after seeing off one-time National winner (year 2000) St. Mary's Yala 19-5 in Nyanza regional finals in June.
Reigning East Africa Sevens school Champions Muhuri Muchiri as well as last year’s beaten finalists Chavakali High spruce up the mix for the crown.
Chavakali underlined their credentials for the title when they beat the 2012 and 2013 loosing finalists and 2015 National 7s champions St. Peter's Mumias 12-7 in Westerns’ regional finals albeit through a sudden death try by Isaac Ouma.
Not to be ignored as contenders are Dagoretti High who recently fended off big names to bag the Nairobi regional crown and make the Nationals cut with a 17-0 win over Muhuri Muchiri.
Being an abridged game, underrating relatively new names could be detrimental and that is what Central champions Karima Secondary from Nyeri and runners up Githiga High, Coast champions Kwale High and the regions runners-up Kaya Tiwi will be riding on as they come to the party.
Nonetheless the four will be sharing the underdog tag with Friends School Bwake and Kipsombe Secondary from Rift Valley. The two made it to the semis of the hotly contested Rift Valley regional finals and by virtue of that took the two slots meant for North Eastern Region that is yet to include rugby in their activities.
Within the sails of the four are Eastern region sides Igembe Boys High School and ABC Muvuti High. Igembe made a statement of intent after seeing off National 7s regulars Kangaru High 19-7 in Kitui during the Eastern semis as Muvuti hit Kariani for a place in the final.
Igembe emerged as Eastern champions by beating Muvuti 29-5 after grounding five tries all from their captain and the region's MVP Elias Mutharimi.
2016 champions Laiser Hill returned to the Nationals after missing out in 2017 by sweeping the Rift Valley title with a 14-0 win over Nakuru Day. National 7s champions Menengai High never made it this far to defend their regional title, consequently missing a return to guard their National diadem.
According to the pools released by the organizers, Laiser Hill Academy, Chavakali High, Maseno School and St. Peters Mumias have all been separated as each headline pools A to D, in that order.
Muhuri Muchiri and St. Mary's Yala join Laiser Hill in pool A arguably making it the toughest of the four groups. Kipsombe will also compete in pool A as Muvuti, Karima Secondary and Friends School Bwake come up against Chavakali in pool B.
Returning Dagoretti High will be up against Maseno in pool C alongside Igembe and coastal champs Kwale High as Nakuru Day and Githiga as well as Kaya Tiwi have booked favoured St. Peter's Mumias in pool D.
Pool A: Laiser Hill, Muhuri Muchiri, St. Mary's Yala, Kipsombe Secondary
Pool B: Chavakali, Muvuti, Karima Secondary, Friends School Bwake
Pool C: Dagoreti High, Maseno School, Igembe Secondary, Kwale High
Pool D: St. Peters Mumias, Kaya Tiwi, Nakuru Day, Githiga High
Some school coaches shared their comments with Raga House ahead of the upcoming showpiece.
Coach of Githiga High Moses Ndungu, a renowned Kenya Cup referee, is hoping for better tidings compared to their last appearance in 2016 where they finished ninth.
"We will put our best foot forward in the tough competition. We want to get out of the group and make the quarters then plan from then on. In making the quarters we will have a good chance of bettering our ninth place finish in 2016."
Githiga returned to the Nationals after seeing off Mutige 22-5 in Central regional semi finals as Karima sailed past Alliance High. Karima won the final 10-7.
Kikechi Kombo of Muhuri Muchiri is aware of the competition at hand but aims for a podium finish.
"The competition will be very tough but we are aiming for a top three finish. We do not want to leave Eldoret without a medal." he said categorically
In last year’s competition, Muhuri Muchiri emerged third after seeing off Bungoma High 21-15 in the losers playoff at Shimo La Tewa, Mombasa which earned them a place in the East African games in Gulu, Uganda. They missed out on the final after going down 14-7 to Chavakali in the semis.
Dagoretti High school coach Victor Walgwe has handed himself the underdogs tag ahead of their Sunday travel to Eldoret.
"We are the underdogs when I look at the structure of the tournament. For my boys the competition will be all new. Playing at this stage each game is like a final. We will plan for a game at a time and hope for the best," said the former Upper Hill coach.
Laiser Hill Academy coach Kevin Wambua said: "Pool A is not an easy one. Muhuri Muchiri are the East African champions and St. Mary's Yala are a quality rugby side while Kipsombe are not predictable. The boys have trained well and are looking forward to the challenge,"
"We aim to the win all our group games and make it to the knockouts where we will treat all games like a final." he added
1. Maseno School, 2. St. Mary's Yala (Nyanza Region), 3. Dagoretti High, 4. Muhuri Muchiri (Nairobi), 5. Kwale High, 6. Kaya Tiwi (Coast), 7. Laiser Hill Academy, 8. Nakuru Day, 9. Friends School Bwake, 10. Kipsombe (Rift Valley), 11. Igembe, 12. Muvuti (Eastern), 13. Chavakali High, 14. St. Peter's Mumias (Western), 15. Githiga High, 16. Karima (Central)
East African Stakes
Podium finishers from the Eldoret showdown will qualify for the prestigious East Africa Secondary School Games set for Rwanda from August 14-26 in Kigali, Rwanda.
It will be the fourth time that Schools Sevens will be contested by East African schools.
At the first time of asking in 2015, Rwanda's Ste Familie beat Kangaru High 21-14 to the title in Huye-Rwanda.
St. Peter's Mumias beat Uganda's Kololo Secondary by the same score in 2016 at the Eldoret Sports club to become Champs as Muhuri Muchiri made it a Kenyan affair once again in 2017 with a 14-7 win over Uganda's Jinja Secondary school in Gulu, Uganda.