Joel Nganga, From Captain To Coach.
Its Monday 10th February the 3rd training week of the Kenya 15s players who will be taking part in the Vodacom Cup in South Africa as Tusker Simba. Its past 7pm and the floodlights at the Barclays Sports Club are lit as the team is only but halfway through its training session.
The biting cold on the sidelines doesn’t seem to deter the boys who go at it under the watchful eyes of the Assistant Coach Paul Murunga and his colleagues. Notably Joel Nga’nga who recently played for the Kenya 15s is on the technical bench coaching his former teammates. Joel is also the forwards coach of Harlequins RFC.
I sit down with Joel after training to talk about his transition to coaching.
Rugby fans have seen you play, few have interacted with you outside rugby. How would you introduce yourself?
Joel: I was on born on 8th May 1982. None of the members in my family played sports but my parents were very supportive ever since. I started playing rugby in Mang’u High School in 1997. I went to St. Hannah’s Preparatory School in Karen before joining Mang’u High.
I have played rugby for 13 years. 13 seasons for Kenya Harlequins RFC. 12 seasons for Kenya. 52 caps. 2 cups from Elgon Warriors.
Achievements: Victoria cups thrice. Elgon Cup severally. CAR 2011.
I’m an architect when I’m not coaching rugby.
What is your inspiration for doing what you do?
Joel: Love for game, the experience and changing lives.
If not rugby, what would you be playing?
Joel: Racket games, badminton is my favorite.
What is the difference being on the outside of the pitch, more so training players you have played with before?
Joel: The biggest challenge is gaining respect as a coach from my former teammates. Then there are those times I get a feeling of helplessness when watching a game, seeing a mistake by a player and wishing I was on the pitch to right the wrong.
What would you say was the highlight of your playing career?
Joel: The turning point of my playing career was in 1997. I was in form 1 and playing for the 2nd team of Mang’u High. I was on the sidelines watching team 1 play the Prescott Cup against Lenana High School. My team was losing. I remember the grin on the face of Allan Omang’a who was ‘single handedly’ destroying my team. I was angry. I was eager to beat Lenana. My anger became my motivation. 3 years later in 2000 I played against Lenana in the Floodies final. We beat them to win Mang’u High’s 1st Floodies Cup. That moment defined my rugby playing career. My desire to win was born that day.
What are your expectations as a coach?
Joel: I’m working towards making my coaching career ten times more successful than my playing career. I’m hoping to win the Kenya Cup with Kenya Harlequins. At Kenya 15s, I hope to get more exposure to attain the much needed experience.
What impact do you think the Head Coach Jerome has brought to the team?
Joel: Jerome has brought different perspective and an approach to the game that raises the stakes of Kenya 15s Team.
Have you had any high points in your coaching career yet?
Joel: Yes. Being the forwards coach at Harlequins, I have noticed an improvement in the set pieces and platforms.
What is the mood at the 15s training sessions?
Joel: There is a lot of excitement. Everyone is looking forward to Vodacom Cup and the challenge it presents. There has been a lot of improvement in the team chemistry too, it must be the tour!
Some reports from South African media indicate that Kenya will be the punching bag in Vodacom Cup. What’s your take on this?
Joel: South Africa, just like anyone else perceive Kenya as weak in 15s rugby. Many think that our strength lies in the 7s version of the game and at times we have limited ourselves to that thought.
We won the CAR 2013 and our hopes for qualifying for the Rugby World Cup 2015 were revived then. We had a very poor performance at the Tri-nations and ended the year on a low. Besides these, it is my belief that the Kenya 15s are ready for the challenge. We are going to the Vodacom Cup as an unknown team, mystery is our strength.