Wednesday 11 May 2022 Kenya Rugby Union from its Ngong Road headquarters announce their decision to part ways with the now-former Kenya 7s coach Innocent Simiyu, replacing him with Damian McGrath, an immensely experienced 64-year-old Englishman out of Bradford, England.
That marks the end of a rather unceremonious second tenure in office for the former Shujaa
player. Simiyu had previously offered his skills in the same position between 2016-2018 before being swapped for Pual Murunga and later New Zealander Paul Feeney. He returned to the position later in 2020 but found it difficult to piece together tangible results with the team undergoing a major transition phase on the backdrop of the effects of Corona Virus on the sport.
At the turn of the year protests over the dismal display from Shujaa on the world stage were starting to get louder from several quarters, the fans leading the onslaught and despite beating Zambia in the third-place playoffs to qualify for the World cup, a defeat to arch rivals Uganda served as the last nail on Simiyu’s tenure.
Who is Kenya 7s new head coach Damian McGrath?
The name Damian McGrath is already a hit among local rugby faithful after he defied the norm and choosing not to sugar-coat anything in his remarks on Shujaa’s current form.
“The skills are poor, I won’t hide from that. The style of play also… It was difficult to see what they were trying to do but I am hoping that we can make some adjustments. I don’t want to play in a type of way that takes away the strength of Kenyan rugby with the speed, flair and athleticism. We need to find a way where we can use that to our advantage and so I think we will try to play a game that suites that and also heavily on skill.” ,” the coach told the press as he was officially unveiled on Saturday.
McGrath who holds a major in education and professional development from the Leeds Metropolitan University started his coaching career with the Bartley Bulldogs Rugby League Club as Reserve Team Head Coach, leading them to their first trophy in 65 years.
He would then take over as the Great Britain Academy Team Head Coach in the period between 1992 and 1997 winning three academy championships along the way. Starting to show a DNA for success, he was then swooped up for the position of England Assistant Coach in 1998 to the year 2000 for the Rugby League World Cup where England bowed out in the Semis against New Zealand.
The turn of the new century ushered McGrath into the international world rugby stage. In 2001 he would join England Sevens Team as Defence and skills coach a position he held all through to 2005 winning four Hong Kong titles coupled with appearances at the 2002 Commonwealth games and 2005 Rugby World Cup.
He also coached the Junior England 7s to a silver finish at the 2004 Junior Commonwealth Games and led the England U19s to a world cup third place finish in 2006.
Back to Sevens
The tactician made a re-entry to the Sevens scope in 2014 when he led Great Britain students to a gold medal finish in the World students Games in Brazil.
A year later he joined Samoa leading them to a title win in Paris, two plates, two shields, a bowl and an overall ninth place finish in the 2015/16 season. He was however shown the door after failing to qualify for the summer Olympics that year.
Spain served Samoa a shocking 22-19 defeat to claim the 12th and last qualifying spot at the Olympics. McGrath
then moved to court challenging the SRU’s decision in a case dragging on to this day.
In 2017, he led Canada to their first ever World Series tournament win at Singapore before a woeful season rocked by player strikes and injuries in his squad saw him released at the end of the 2018/19 season.
2020 saw him take over as the head of Germany Sevens men programme leading them to a challenger series victory and a fifth place finish at the Edmonton sevens.
Author of Books
McGrath’s deep reaching experience is shown in his two books; ‘Rugby Skills Games’ and ‘Almost 101 Small Sided Games and Relays for Rugby’ where he delves deeper into how players can master basic skills to play well. According to him basic skills have to be practised regularly at all ages and levels perhaps explaining his sentiments on the lacking skill among the Shujaa ranks.
What does McGrath’s appointment possibly spell for Shujaa?
A tried and tested tactician on different levels coupled with the re-introduction of Geoffrey Kimani as the Strength Coach seems like the perfect mix for success that has remained elusive for some years now.
Transitioning into a new squad will be on top of his agenda and he has shown it by immediately slotting in exciting talent in the form of Blak Blad’s Archadius Khwesa and Nondies’ Benson Salem.
The biggest worry is whether two years will be enough for a complete overhaul with the Englishman at the helm. This again is dependent on the working conditions and support he will receive from the KRU.
I have a good feeling about this appointment, but we will have to wait longer before the results start trickling in.