2020, The Year That Could Have Been!
It started off as one of the most mouth watering years in Kenya rugby’s history, with the Shujaa and Lionesses set to play in the Olympics, the fifteens Lionesses gunning for a World cup slot and the Simbas getting their 2023 plans underway, playing tests all around the country.
In 2019, the Safari sevens finally found its feet, in 2020 it was expected to start walking, backed by an ever growing National Sevens series.
While we were looking forward to all this, the Kenya and Enterprise cups had just turned into the last lap, all indications were pointing towards an exciting finish to an equally exciting season, with the real possibility of crowning new champions. The battle for promotion from both the Championship and Nationwide leagues was at a similar stage.
The Shujaa looked like they were finally gaining their footing in that new bizarre, inconsistent playing format at the HSBC World series, with more and more senior players coming back to the team. Just as we were settling in to the year… BOOM!
The world was thrown into turmoil as we started battling the Covid-19 pandemic, what had looked like a farfetched foreign thing was with us. Everything came to a standstill, the season was cancelled, then reinstated, then cancelled again!
But what could have 2020 looked like, had the pandemic not hit us? Come let’s imagine together even as we usher in 2021!
At cancellation, the Kenya Cup was heading to the top 6 play off, with the Oilers facing Homeboyz and Impala taking on Mwamba. The winners from the two were to face KCB and Kabras respectively.
It had been an exciting season this far, Kabras had registered a first league win against KCB and were hot favourites to finally wrestle the title from the bankers. Homeboyz who had beaten Kabras and played out a draw against KCB were the other side who had shown title winning potential.
If I was to pick a 2019/20 winner from the three, it would have been the one who would have won the semi between KCB and Homeboyz.
On the other end of the table, Kisumu and Western Bulls had already been relegated back to the Championship.
The Strathmore University Leos and MMUST were knocking on the Kenya Cup door with Mean Machine, Egerton, USIU and the Northern Suburb cubs the other sides in the race, having made it to the play offs.
I think Strathmore and MMUST would have gone on to gain promotion, with the Leos completing the season unbeaten.
The curtains had already been drawn for, Mombasa and Kisii RFC who had been relegated to the Nationwide league.
The Enterprise cup was heading to the semi final stage with defending champions Kabras facing Mwamba and Impala taking on KCB. It would have most probably been a KCB v Kabras, the winner is anyone’s guess.
In the Mwamba Cup, Kabras II benefited from a walkover against Mwamba II, they were set to face Impala II. Strathmore Catulus were set to face KCB II in the other semi.
Another KCB v Kabras final here, with KCB II favourites to win that one.
The Chipu were set to defend their U20 Barthes cup in their backyard in April, where they would take on Namibia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar.
I have all faith that Chipu would have successfully defended their title, especially if they played at the Lion’s Den.
The XV Lionesses
The Lionesses were preparing to host Colombia on 18th April in a Repechage qualifier match.
The ladies were also set to play in the Rugby Africa Women’s cup title between May and June, where they would face South Africa, Madagascar and Uganda.
There was also the small matter of the Elgon Cup, in which the Lionesses would have easily defended their title.
Locally the Women’s 10s festival had played 3 rounds out of 4, with Mwamba winning 2 out of those and Impala taking home the other. Given the form they were in, there was no stopping the Mwamba Ladies on their way to winning the overall title.
It is worth noting the festival was played in two tiers for the first, owing to the growth of the women’s game in the country.
The 7s Lionesses
The 7s Lionesses were preparing to play in the Tokyo Olympics in July, before then they were to play in the inaugural HSBC Challenger World series tournaments in South Africa alongside Argentina, Belgium, China, Colombia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Scotland and hosts South Africa.
The Lionesses were also set to play at the 2020 HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series qualifiers set for 3rd to 5th April in Hong Kong and the Langford Sevens hosted in Canada in May.
It would have been a great year for the 7s Lionesses, who were just starting to pick up momentum towards becoming a core side.
Shujaa were sitting 12th on the HSBC World series on 35 points after six legs before the season was called off. It had been a topsy turvy one for the Shujaa, whose best outing was in Cape Town where they bagged 11 points after reaching the Cup quarter final.
I believe that we would have seen a much improved side in the last four legs and eventually in the Olympic games. Paul Feeney eventually left his role as Kenya sevens head coach and was replaced by Innocent Simiyu.
World Rugby had introduced a very bizzare format of play, which I hope they leave in 2020.
Locally, the Stanbic Series was set to kick off in July, with the Kabeberi 7s in Meru, to culminate with the Dala 7s in Kisumu. I think it would have been another arm wrestle featuring KCB, Mwamba and Homeboyz for the overall title.
The Shujaa were to play host to what promised to be a top field of sides from around the world in the 2020 Tusker Safari Sevens, which was set for 24th October.
The Simbas were to be the highlight of my 2020, with three Rugby Africa Gold Cup test matches around the country in Mombasa, Kakamega and Nakuru.
It would have been the first time that the Simbas would have played all their matches outside of the capital, if what we had seen in Kisumu and Nakuru in 2019 was anything to go by, the tests were going to be a hit!
The Simbas would have won all their home tests, against Morocco, Uganda and Zimbabwe, as well as the one away to Ivory Coast. In an expanded format, the Simbas would have then progressed to the Semi finals and finals, where they would have most probably faced Namibia.
Those who left us…
It was also the year that we lost Tony Onyango (Kenya XVs, VIIs, KCB), Allan Makaka (Kenya XVs, VIIs, Quins), Sebastain Shivokha (KCB, Homeboyz, Kabras), Ian Waraba (Quins), Mohammed Fwamba (Webuye), Phares Mbadi (Nondies), Armstrong Githui (A Real Ninja) among others.
May their souls keep resting in eternal peace!
Not all Doom & Gloom
It was not all doom and gloom, as the suspension of play offered most of the players a much needed break, some of whom had not enjoyed an ‘off season’ in years.
Player and fans alike discovered new passions and enjoyed some quality time with family and friends. We found new ways to interact, with multiple rugby shows coming up including our very own, Our Rugby Stories.
Looking Forward To 2021
As we look forward to 2021, there is hope of resumption of play in the first quarter (that is before March). The national sevens teams are back in training with unconfirmed reports suggesting that the Shujaa might be in action as early as February.
I know I speak for all when I say that we can’t wait for our beloved sport to return, to watch our favourite clubs in action and our national teams at the global stage while enjoying a cold drink and banter with friends!
Barring another pandemic (Please No!) we will be enjoying all this in 2021!
Until then remember to stay safe…here is to an amazing year ahead!
2020 KWISHA… Nimeruka Nje, na UKWENDE!!
PS. The first episode of Our Rugby Stories in 2021 will be coming at you real soon!