Safari Sevens Memories – Paul Odera

Paul Odera is a former Kenyan international in the sevens and fifteens versions of the game and current Head Coach of the Kenya U20s.

Paul Odera (seated, fifth from right, posing with the Kenya U19s prior to the 2015 Rugby Africa U19 championships in Zimbabwe)

 

The former St. Mary’s School, Quins and Nondies man was part of the team that  secured Kenya’s qualification to their maiden Rugby World Cup Sevens appearance in 2001. We recently took the time out to catch up with Odera for the latest installment of Safari Sevens Memories.
S7s:When did you first play at the Safari Sevens?
PO:I first played at the Safari Sevens in 1998.

S7s:What was the experience like when you first played at the sevens?
PO:It is to date for me the most amazing experience of my playing career. The closeness of the crowd at RFUEA. I remember running onto the field and the noise from the crowd as the PA announced that Kenya were running on. Nothing beats the feeling of playing in front of your home crowd, but the atmosphere at RFUEA lifted us to perform way beyond our abilities.

S7s:What is your enduring memory of the sevens at RFUEA?
PO:The crowd rising to cheer on Kenya when we were playing Namibia in the Semi Finals of the sevens World Cup Qualifiers in 2000. We qualified for the Sevens World Cup for the first time and that semi final match had the crowd as the 13th player.

Paul Odera (left, squatting) with the Kenya team during the RWC Sevens qualifiers held in Nairobi in 2000.

S7s:You’ve been part of the winning squads in previous Safari Sevens, how do you capture that feeling?
PO:Winning Safari Sevens is not an easy feeling to describe in writing. There is relief at the end becasue of the huge expectation that the country places on us. There is deep satisfaction after achieving such a feat and all the hard work. The best feeling is that of immense pride in the country and teammates. Looking at your band of brothers next to you and feeling privileged to be playing with such players and representing the country.

S7s:You have seen the tournament go full cycle, from RFUEA to Nyayo to Kasarani and now back to RFUEA…your thoughts?
PO:The tournament has indeed gone through various changes. I attended the Nyayo stadium and Kasarani events. I do believe those stadia were far too big for the game in Kenya. However, the infrastructure at Kasarani was well suited to a large crowd. I think if the capacity at RFUEA is increased to between 10-15 thousand pax then it is the perfect venue for rugby. Secondly, the facilites for players need to be improved to accommodate the large number of teams.

S7s:Lastly, any advice for upcoming players?
PO:My advice to the youngsters coming up is to dream and dream big. But they must remember that if they want to have what the best rugby players in the world have, they must do what great players do. That is work hard, focus and be resilient. Youngsters sometimes have it backwards. That they first want to have what great players have then they will be able to do what great players do. The money, fame and recognition only comes after you are doing what great rugby players do.

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