The rugby year 2019 served us with some great moments, Chipu playing in their first JWRT since 09, the Lionesses playing in the RWC 2021 qualifiers, they also qualified for the 2021 Olympics as did the Shujaa. It was also the year we saw a new generation of players taking over the reigns in the national teams.
The Shujaa also survived the axe from the world series with the skin of their teeth at the Paris 7s, locally, KCB kept their dominance going, after winning the Kenya Cup, ESS, National Sevens series and Floodies titles in the calendar year. It was also the year that we saw the return of the Tusker Safari 7s.
Looking further back to the decade, who can forget that 2010 Safari 7s Sydney Ashioya try? Or how we dramatically qualified for the 2015 Olympic games? That Singapore win, and Injera’s drop goal against Argentina, how about that win over Namibia at the RWC 2015 qualifier, then the heart break that followed? It was the decade that saw the expansion of the Kenya cup and consequent growth of the sport in the country.
As far as matches go, the Quins vs KCB Kenya cup final of 2010 alongside the 2014/15 Kenya Cup semi finals; Nakuru vs Kabras and KCB vs Strathmore would probably be my top three picks of the decade.
We could go on and on about the past decade, it was truly as memorable as it was monumental. So what does this decade hold for us? World cup qualification? An Olympic medal? The sport finally going pro? Your guess is as good as mine, how about we start with the year, so here are my top five things to look out for in the rugby calendar 2020.
1. The Olympic Games – The biggest sporting event on the globe will be hosted in Tokyo, Japan from 24th July – Sunday 9th August. Apart from her stars in athletics, Kenya will for the second time be represented by the Kenya 7s men and women’s teams.
At the 2016 Olympics, the Shujaa and Lionesses both finished in 11th position, a disappointing return especially for the Shujaa who had a few months back won in Singapore. This time round the two teams will be looking to improve that placing and probably get within the medal brackets.
2. Lionesses at RWC 2021 Qualifier – The lionesses finished second to South Africa in the RWC 2021 African qualifier, earning them a slot to play against the winner of the South America Qualifier, whose winner will then earn a slot in the Repechage tournament.
The dates for this crucial match are yet to be announced but will probably be before July 2020. A win here will see the Lionesses progress to the Repechage, where they will face the second place finishers from Asia, Oceania for a place in RWC 2021.
3. Chipu at the 2020 Barthes Cup – The Chipu class of 2019 became the first team to play in the JWRT, since 2009, after beating Namibia to the Barthes Cup at the KCB Ruaraka Sports Club. The class of 2020, which has already started to be assembled, will have the task of defending that Barthes Cup title and progress to the JWRT.
With a good number of the players from 2019 still eligible to play this year and the early nation wide recruitment of the team, we can be rather confident that the class of 2020 can match their predecessors, or even go one better at the JWRT.
4. Kenya Cup Promotion – While most eyes will be on the battle for the 19/20 Kenya cup title, which will most probably be the same two horse race, the real action should be at the battle for promotion to the top flight in the Championship.
So far, Strathmore look like odd on favourites to return to the Kenya Cup, the Leos are currently unbeaten and hold an eight point advantage at the summit of the standings. Below them, MMUST are the other strong contenders, having lost once, with a nine point advantage over third placed Mean Machine. From this point six sides have a chance of making the play offs, they are; Eldoret, the Northern Suburbs, Egerton Wasps, who are currently inside that bracket, then USIU, CUEA and the South Coast Pirates who are one point away from the play off places.
The battle for relegation in the Kenya cup also looks like it will go down to the wire with Kisumu and Blak Blad currently occupying the positions to be axed at the end of the season.
5. The Tusker Safari Sevens – After several years on its death bed, KRU successfully brought the region’s premier rugby tournament back to life in 2019. This year’s edition will be crucial for the future of the tournament, riding on the success of 2019.
Should it return to the RFUEA? Nyayo Stadium? Maybe a county? We already saw the success of the Simbas test matches in Kisumu and Nakuru. We wait and see.
On a side note, I hope that this is the year we see clubs diversify the rugby calendar and embrace Friday night rugby and Sunday rugby.
Here is wishing you a happy 2020, may the bounce of the rugby ball always be in your favour!