Olympic dreams are earned the tough way. Training for the ultimate multi-sport, summer showcase comes at a cost measured in buckets of sweat and galleries of pained faces.
However, for some sevens sides, even competing on the yearly circuit is a triumph of teamwork over logistics. “Some guys in our team have to leave home at 4am so we can all make it to training for 6am,” says Kenya’s Collins Injera, the all-time top try-scorer on the HSBC Sevens World Series with 235.
“It’s tricky to get people to training during the week. Some are students and most work. I’m lucky I work in public service, so I can get the time off. You’ve really got to have people who are understanding because you’re away for two weeks at a time, which is massive.
“We got the huge rewards after winning a series leg in Singapore, but we still needed understanding people. When we got back, guys had to catch up on their studies – some miss exam periods – and we’ve had guys whose bosses have not allowed them to get away. I’m lucky that my boss is a huge supporter of Kenya rugby.”
Injera, who has worked as a salesman in the past and has a degree in PR, sees the benefits of a group pulling together. He insists they have no “magical players”, although he and brother Humphrey Kayange have played a large role in marching Kenyan sevens upwards and demonstrating they have true quality. What he does concede is that a first-ever World Series triumph in Singapore has given the people of the country something to cheer. Forget the casual celebrity of it all, it was necessary in order to show kids what is possible.
“We needed to believe in our system and create a real bond between the players. We have so many new boys in the set-up this season that we had to pull everyone together. We’ve had training camps at altitude, in the Nandi Hills, and have done plenty of activities together like mountain hikes. But that win helped us bond.
“When we got back home to Kenya, everyone was talking about rugby. That could be good for youngsters. In the past, all people have known Kenya for is track and field at the Olympics but that was big – something to remember forever. It also shows we have something huge (with the Olympics coming up). The dream, a few years from now, is to wake up and see professional rugby as a reality for our players. So much of it is about getting the proper resources for us. To wake up and just play rugby? I want young boys to enjoy the funds of a sport we all love.”
“We’ve had guys whose bosses have not allowed them to get away. I’m lucky that my boss is a huge supporter of Kenya rugby.”
Just getting away from the big city to meet up is a big thing for the Kenya Sevens squad, and time spent abroad can help broaden horizons in terms of seeing different rugby styles. Since his debut in 2007, Injera has been a standout star for the side, but he has also improved markedly. Hence how he surpassed Santiago Gomez Cora’s try record.
At the time he broke the record at Twickenham in May, Injera said: “I’ve played this sport since high school and when I started out I wanted to go for the record.”
That may sound like he is incredibly singular, but he is insistent on giving back to his squad. He is more than just a figurehead; going further, Kenyan rugby is so much more than a pair of exciting brothers in Injera and Kayange. A new generation is coming through, being nurtured and nudged by the veterans, but also getting used to competing for honours.
Much of the chat about Injera during the Olympics will revolve around two facts. The first, of course, is his record try-scoring feats on an ever-expanding and ever-improving sevens circuit. The second is that at Twickenham last year he scored a try, whipped a permanent marker pen out of his sock and signed a camera lens, accidentally destroying a bit of equipment worth £60,000. Woopsy, you may say.
These titbits are both true but as the flyer describes the toil to get to training facing his team-mates from outside of Nairobi, the desire to bring everyone together and show them their worth, or the dream of a new era of professional sport for his younger compatriots, it is hard to see Collins Injera as a man defined by numbers – be they pounds or tries.
“Coming into this season we knew it would be huge – it has been for everyone,” Injera says to finish this post-training chat. It could have been an opening line, it could be a PR slogan for the Sevens World Series. But there is also a sense of ‘more to come’.
It is almost a promise that the Games in Rio will be the thrilling conclusion to a sevens season where everything has impressed. That includes Kenya – the ultimate surprise package.