Shield finalists take heart but both face uphill battles on home front

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2011, 12:00am

Rugby will probably never be able to compete with running in Kenya or football in Spain, but after the African nation edged out their European counterparts in extra-time to win the Shield, both hope they can alter the sporting landscape in their respective nations.

Kenya arrived with high hopes after winning the Bowl title in New Zealand before reaching the Plate final in Las Vegas last month to boost their position in the world series. But they were forced to settle for Shield success with a 17-12 victory over Spain after being made to pay for a poor start which relegated Benjamin Ayimba's side to the fourth-tier competition.

Sidney Ashioya's extra-time try proved the difference between the sides after Spain wasted two chances to claim victory. Pedro Martin missed a conversion in stoppage-time at the end of the second half and Martin Heredia failed to land a penalty in sudden-death extra-time.

'It is a proud moment because we put ourselves in a hole on Friday after losing to Russia and we didn't do too well against Fiji,' said Ayimba, who saw his side also beat Malaysia 59-7 and China 24-5 yesterday.

'That was regrettable but it is a proud moment to win the Shield. It is disappointing not to pick up any world series points but that's how it goes and we have to pick ourselves up for the next event.'

While inclusion in the Olympics has changed the recognition given to sevens in many nations, running-mad Kenya is yet to fully embrace the sport with crucial funding.

'The next level is professionalism, but that is quite far. Once we do that we will look to contract the players,' Ayimba said.

'The inclusion in the Olympics has not changed anything yet because runners in Kenya are certain to get medals and we are at a disadvantage because rugby is a sport which is very new and they are not sure if they want to invest in it for the Olympics.'

Spain may have a long and proud rugby history with its official union founded in 1923, but they will always have to compete with soccer for the nation's affections, despite enjoying recent success in the Fira European Sevens.

Juan Cano's first-half try handed Spain a 7-0 half-time lead, but Martin's missed conversion after Carlos Blanco had touched down out wide in stoppage-time and Heredia's failed penalty attempt ultimately cost Spain a first piece of series silverware in their 14th tournament appearance after reaching the Bowl final in Hong Kong in 1989 and the Shield semi-finals in Scotland two years ago.

'It has been a wonderful opportunity to play in Hong Kong against teams of such high quality and we can only hope to take this forward after this experience,' said coach Jose Ignacio Inchausti.

'We already have a lot of followers but getting to the final in an IRB series event, even if it is the Shield, against a team like Kenya who play regularly on the circuit, will help generate more and more interest.

'The fact that rugby is going to be an Olympic sport will mean support from the government which will help us develop, although no sport will ever be as big as soccer in Spain.'