Friday: Rekindling the magic of Kenya Sevens
This season Mike Friday is back at the coalface.
Recently a broadcast pundit in the UK, Friday is best remembered in Sevens as either a fiery England captain or a coach of the national side that won multiple Hong Kong titles. Now, though, the man they call 'Geezer' has taken on a new challenge as head coach of a team he has long admired, Kenya.
"It is a change, it's been six years now since I left England and going from a country that has immense resources and a big history in the game to a younger, developing rugby nation where resources are limited is different, but it's refreshing and it takes you back to basics and makes you think about the game again," Friday told IRB Total Rugby.
Sevens is a fast-moving game but one immovable hurdle has been in place from the moment he took the new job: the fact that he would eventually face England.
Across the length of an entire season, Friday always knew that he would come up against the team he proudly played for, captained and coached, so to face them in the first round was quirky, if no massive shock.
The irony of facing them in the very first match of the season is inescapable. In many ways, though, it is only fitting that his comeback receives the billing it deserves.
"It's going to be quite an interesting affair really. I think people are getting caught up in this Mike Friday - Ben Ryan thing. The reality is that I coached England years ago and my track record is there, everyone can see what I did with England.
"It's a different kettle of fish for me now, it's about Kenya, their journey and their evolution and England are just a team that are in our way.
Out to upset the form book
"We will respect them, they are immense favourites, they're a superb rugby nation. They're number three in the world and should be competing for the Cup at every tournament whereas we are finding our feet and we hope to be in a position to compete in Cup finals, semi finals and quarter finals as a part of that journey.
"So yes, the respect for the England team will be there but there will be full-blooded commitment from Kenya and we will be doing our utmost to upset the form book and get a win in that opening match of the new HSBC Sevens World Series."
Friday lists various key objectives for his first season in charge of Kenya. First and foremost, they must retain core team status following the "fantastic news" of the new promotion / relegation structure, which Friday believes breathes new life into many of the aspiring nations. He also yearns to instill greater consistency of performance, and to focus on drumming home the basics of the game. From these modest groundings, he hopes his side will compete regularly for Cup trophies.
"The boys are fantastic and their commitment has been exceptional - they've really bought into the environment that we've tried to create and that has been a professional but family environment where everyone is accountable for their actions.
"They're great listeners, great learners. People need to give them time, and to understand that they're a young rugby nation. While there is immense natural talent, there needs to be direction and focus in terms of their tactical understanding and also the physical side of things.
"They have the capability of upsetting anyone on their day, everyone knows that. Everyone is fearful of the Kenyans because they're never sure which team is coming out to play. Is it the magicians, or is it sometimes the guys who can self-implode? A big part of my job is bringing a consistency to the 'magical' side of Kenyan Sevens Rugby and trying to eradicate the simple errors and the implosion that sometimes occurs."
As well as guiding Kenya back to the kind form and fitness, overall one senses that Friday is simply delighted to be back.
"It's great to be back in the environment and I'm looking forward to meeting up with the likes of Paul Treu and Titch and Paul John, who I've kept in touch with even when I was outside the Series. And I'm especially looking forward to seeing Phil Greening back on the Series."