2013 will go down in history as one of the most eventful calendar years in Kenya rugby and in big parts for all the right reasons. The successes of the national sides, the crowning of first time champions in the local leagues and exponential growth of the sport among the many highlights.
The year also had its fair share of lows, wrangles in the top brass playing out in the public gallery and in one instance finding their way to the corridors of justice.
To wrap up the year, I have picked moments both good and not so good that have defined the year 2013. These are moments in matches, incidences on and off the field that will probably pop up in your mind 10 years down the line when you remember 2013.
In February 2013, the year crowned its first bunch of champions when the fifteens season came to a close at the then Kasarani Stadium. The biggest winner on the day was none other than Nakuru RFC, who picked up their first Kenya Cup title ever after beating Strathmore 37-3.
|The Kenya Cup Champions
That win under the Kasarani floodlights was the culmination of some great work done not only on the pitch but off it over the years. During that title winning season, the Wanyore were invincible at home, confidently dispatching any side that came to the NAC. Only Mwamba RFC left the Suguta Valley with anything to show for, a draw.
Other winners on the night were Catholic University in the Universities league, Eldoret RFC in the Nationwide that win earning them promotion to the Kenya Cup and Quins II in the ESS.
In March, the 24th edition of the Nakuru Great Rift tens, saw KCB pick up the main title after edging out Machine in the final.
In April, Mombasa successfully hosted the first edition of the CAR sevens championships which the Kenya 7s won after beating Zimbabwe 24-19. It was another feather in the cap of what had been a high flying season for the sevens side. There were many other winners outside of the tournament most notably the city of Mombasa that got the rights to host the second edition next year.
|The Sevens African Champions
In the same month of April, Mwamba RFC picked up the Enterprise Cup, beating Nakuru RFC 15-10 at the RFUEA denying the Wanyore a famous double. Other winners on the day were the KCB cubs who picked up the Mwamba Cup beating Impala II 22-21, and JKUAT who picked up the newly created Mwamba II cup after a 19-7 result over Webuye.
In May, the Kenya sevens ended their most successful season in history, finishing 5th overall having played in five semi finals and one cup final during the nine legs. This impressive run raked in 99 points, and the side was now working towards the upcoming world cup in Russia.
In June, after all the complaints that came with the renaming of the franchises and the controversies that came during the Super Series, the Ndovu picked up the title after a 28-14 win over Rwenzori of Uganda.
The Ndovu managed to steer clear of the murky waters and convincingly dispatch the Ugandan side. On their way to that title, they managed to do what rarely happens in the Super series, win on foreign soil. To wrap up what had been a super season for Nakuru RFC that made up the bulk of the side.
|The Bamburi Super Series Champions
KCB picked up their third piece of silverware of the year, after beating Mean Machine 22-14 in the Chairman’s cup final.
In the same month, the Kenya sevens finished in fourth at the World cup matching the 2009 performance, after a bitter 12-5 loss to England in the semi final and a 29-5 defeat at the hands of Fiji in the bronze play off.
After losing the Elgon Cup in 2012, the Kenya XVs began their challenge for the title on a sour note with a 17-16 loss to Uganda at the Kasarani Stadium in June. It was the first game for new head coach Jerome Paarwater, and had come under some fire from a section of the fans.
Jerome took an un largely changed side to Kampala a few weeks later to silence the critics, by convincingly beating the Uganda Cranes at their Kyadondo backyard 19-13 and reclaim the Elgon Cup, with a 34-30 aggregate score.
As if that were not enough the following month, Jerome led the Kenya fifteens to annihilate the Ugandans 50-12 in the first match of the CAR division 1A championships in Madagascar.
|The Fifteens African Champions
The Fifteens side followed this win with a 29-17 result over the defending African Champs Zimbabwe to pick up the African title for the second time in three years, in a match that was broadcast on NTV. That win saw Kenya jump to an all time high in the IRB rankings to 31st in the world. But most importantly that win meant Kenya were still in contention for a spot in the 2015 world cup.
August ushered in the start of the sevens season, but before we could get into the serious action, there was the warm up in Masaku. The Masaku sevens in only it’s second year attracted record crowds though the action on the field was not all that as defending champions Quins beat Homeboyz in the final. The action on the side lines was something else…
This paved way for the kick off of the new look sevens series under a lucrative sponsorship deal with leading telecommunication company, Safaricom. The Safaricom sevens series did not disappoint one bit, producing three different winners from the five legs.
The season started with Strathmore picking up the Dala title at the muddy Kenya Polytechnic grounds, this was followed by a first time title for the Homeboyz at the Kabeberi sevens that was for the first time in a decade hosted at the Nairobi Railway Club.
KCB then took over from this point, winning the next three legs in Prinsloo, Driftwood and the Christie and picking up their first sevens title ever.
|The Safaricom Sevens Series Champions
In early September the Chipu, Kenya U-19 side finished second in the CAR Division 1A in Nelspruit South Africa after losing to Namibia. This was the best finish ever by an under 19 side, having beat Zimbabwe 29-20 in the first match.
The five legs of the Safaricom series all climaxed to Africa’s premier sevens tournament, the Safaricom Safari sevens in September. The tournament moved to a new home, the 60,000 seater Kasarani stadium, despite the challenges that come with a new venue and lack of top sides. The tournament attracted record crowds on Saturday before the terror attack in Westgate.
The tournament commendably went on on Sunday, with Kenya lifting the Robin Cahill trophy on a rainy evening after beating the Australia Renegades 40-7.
|The Safaricom Sevens Champions
October saw the Strathmore Leos pick up the Nairobi 10’s title, beating the hosts Homeboyz 19-17. Which paved way for the 32nd edition of the Impala Floodlit tournament, after three weeks of action, Ofafa Jericho picked up their first Floodies title ever in the schools category after blanking Alliance 17-0.
Blakblad picked up the Universities title with a 20-15 win over the Strathmore Catulus.
KCB beat Nondies 28-3 in the clubs category to pick up their third Floodies title and their 5th major trophy of the year.
2013 had a full complement of moments on the pitch that left us dangling at the edge of our seats, butt cheeks clenched, our hearts literally in our toes, fingers crossed and our eyes flickering in anticipation. Malaria we call it..
I can sit here and list them but we will be here till 2015, so I’ll go straight to number one.
This one is a no brainer really, February 2nd, Oscar Ouma’s winning try against New Zealand in Wellington at extra time. It’s not only about the try which won us the game, but the whole game, the second half showing to come from a 14-0 point deficit at the break. Oscar’s first try was also something..breaking through two defenders to sprint 60 meters to score at the corner..Biko’s conversion from that angle.
Then Collins Injera’s try to level it at the death, the phases we put together, patiently probing, Horace’s awareness to release the ball after being tackled..the, I can go on and on..
Then there was the build up play leading to that try. Injera, Biko and Ambaka doing well to hold up Ben Lam up, Andrew Amonde’s great work in picking up the lose ball and the ‘stool’ on Cama then his great decision to hold onto that ball a little longer, then release Oscar..I still think that Andrew would have gone all the way.
Oscar still had a lot to do, beating, no blasting through his defender to ground the ball, I still get goose bumps remembering that.
Then there was the final after this match, down to six, but still managed to keep England at bay. Then we all know what happened after no need to repeat it here. Despite the loss I still look at these two games with a lot of pride..and will for a long long time to come.
Other moments were William Ambaka’s last gasp try against France in the World cup quarter final. Then there was the head of state donning the sevens shirt during the flag presentation ceremony at state house. He then later visited the Impala Club to watch the side in Moscow.
|The Head of State
As I mentioned earlier, we had some lows this year mostly originating from the board room. Early in the year there was the firing then re hiring of sevens head coach Mike Friday. Big M was fired by KRU director Philip Jalango just before the London 7s before being quickly re instated by Chairman Mwangi Muthee.
Jalango was subsequently ‘suspended’ from his director duties for his actions. This led to Mr. Jalango proceeding to court to dispute his suspension, a case which he won a few months ago and got re instated.
Then there was the 11th edition of the Bamburi Super Series, the reconstruction of the franchises though working to spread the game, it dealt a major blow in the quality of play, cricket scores were the order of the tournament.
Who can forget the home semi final fiasco where the Nyumbu refused to travel to Kampala to face Rwenzori after topping their pool. The management went forth to form a ghost side, the ‘Nyumbulets’ as they were popularly referred to. The ripples from this whole debacle were felt in the national side.
With two legs of the Safaricom Sevens Series played, it was the turn of the Driftwood sevens at the Mombasa Sports Club. A disagreement on the alcohol supplier for the tournament threw preparations in disarray. This culminating in the cancellation of the tournament on the Thursday before kick off, when sides had already finalised their plans and begun their journey to the coast.
The tournament however went on as scheduled as an agreement was reached early Friday morning. As I have said here before a big chunk of these issues could be solved with better communication and a little more understanding between the parties.
All is well that ends well though…
A situation that is building up or has been since August is the one in Kisumu RFC, in fighting among the clubs top brass has since seen the side fail to honour a big number of its league fixtures this far. Let’s hope this one is solved as swiftly as possible. The difficulty in club wrangles is that the Union has little or no say..
On the pitch, the low was that loss to England in the World Cup semi final. That storm cloud from hell and the TV signal failure, through out that game. Then the Dan Norton tackle on Willie…*sob*
2013 had some milestone moments, as far as management of the game went. The Top of the bill is the Safaricom sponsorship of the sevens series, that not only brought money to the hosting clubs but also so record crowds across the legs.
The year saw the union turn it’s attention to strengthening the fifteens side in preparation for the World cup qualifiers. The appointment of Jerome early in the year and the Migaa deal laying the foundation for the side.
The lucrative Zuku TV rights deal, that will see the fifteens side score huge bonuses if they manage to qualify for the world cup. Apart from that the deal is set to kick off in earnest next year when Zuku start airing matches from the various leagues.
Kenya’s participation in the Windhoek Tri nations against Namibia and Zimbabwe is yet another step in the right direction in getting ready for the World cup qualifiers. With the side set to play in the Vodacom Cup in early 2014, we are clearly on the right path.
The growth of the game has been extra ordinary, with 81 sides now taking part in the new three tier league system that kicked off in October. There were 59 teams last season.
After the resignation of Mike Friday, we needed to secure the services of a top coach, better than Big M. Though it took long, the Union managed to acquire the second most decorated coach on the series, Paul Treu, which was no mean achievement. Treu was handed the title of performance director of the sevens giving him the larger docket of improving the playing standards across the country and ensuring Olympic qualification.
Most of you might not know this but the KRU was ranked by the IRB as the second best run union in Africa after South Africa. Love them or hate them, you have to give it to them for a job well done in 2013, they have always found a way to solve the arising issues.
On the field of play, it was a great year for some young lads, Oscar Ayodi and Fabian Olando who hold the rare accolade of being double African champions, in the sevens and fifteens. Dan Skuta who had a super year that culminated in a sevens call up in the Gold coast leg.
Joshua Chisanga aka ‘Mr. Kampala’ who wowed many with his performances for club and country. Impala’s duo of Robert Aringo and Sammy Oliech, Homeboyz duo of Leornard Mugaisi and Humphrey Mulama who earned call ups to the sevens side. Jacob Ojee of KCB, Max Theuri of Quins the duo had a great run of solid performances in 2013.
|Joshua Chisanga in action for Hom
To Look Forward To
2014 promises to be another great year for Kenya rugby, here are a few things that I will be looking forward to.
- The Sevens side at the George Sevens Premier league in South Africa next month before the Las Vegas leg, which will be the first time in a while that the sevens side will play a warm up tournament.
- The fifteens side in the Vodacom cup, though not confirmed, just the possibility of playing in South Africa’s second tier tournament is very exciting.
- The first match to be broadcast live on Zuku, after several months of waiting, this will probably happen somewhere in January.
- The relegation and promotion of teams and the battle that will precede it in the closing days of the leagues. Also the race for the play off positions looks like it will go down to the wire.
- The upgrading of the Safaricom Stadium Kasarani, that will be the home of the Safaricom Sevens. With rugby among the sports set to benefit greatly from the new look stadium.
- Masaku sevens at the new Machakos stadium, we all saw that the golf club was a bit overwhelmed by the numbers this year. The Machakos County stadium would be a great venue, wouldn’t it? Perhaps this time it will be part of the Safaricom Sevens Series?
- The second Safaricom Safari Sevens in the new look Safaricom Stadium, as well as the second year of the sevens series.
- The first sevens title ever..oh yes, 2014 will be the year.
- The fifteens World cup qualifiers in Madagascar.
- Last but not least..the Odd shaped Balls Kenya Website…oh yes, it it almost here..
With that ladies here’s to an even better 2014, may your pockets never lack a coin, your cup never run dry, your plate never lack food and your clande never meet your spouse..but most of all may we enjoy another action packed year of the sport they play in heaven and may the rugby gods continue smiling down on Kenya.
What do you think?