If the Kenya rugby year 2022 was a fruit, it would probably be a coconut, hard, with little taste, and leaving you with nothing much to remember. It was however not all doom and gloom, as the year also served some ‘mango’ moments…so let’s look at what shaped the year!
In many ways, the strides made in the development of women’s rugby was my biggest highlight of 2022. In March, we crowned our first ever Kenya Cup winners, Mwamba RFC, who beat Impala 15-11 in a pulsating final played at the Impala club, a contender for match of the year.
The sevens Lionesses finished fifth at the 2022 Africa women sevens in Tunisia, after a bitter 10-7 loss to Uganda followed by a 19-5 defeat to Tunisia in the cup quarter finals. The most exciting part was that this was the first time this young side was playing together.
After that showing in Tunisia, the sevens Lionesses would go ahead and finish fourth in the World Challenger series in Chile, with notable wins over China and South Africa. For their last assignment of the year, the side honourably bowed out at the plate semi final, after arriving in Dubai barely hours to their first match against Tunisia, a match they won 10-5.
On the XVs side, the side closed the year ranked an all time high of 25th in the world, after winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup Pool B competition hosted in Uganda. The XVs opened their campaign with a 36-17 win over Zambia before seeing off the hosts Uganda 23-3.
On the individual front, Janet ‘Shebesh’ Okello, stood out, evetually landing a deal in Japan, Grace Adhiambo who won the SJAK player of the month in November, Christabel Lindo, Stacey Otieno and Anne Akinyi all had a stellar year.
While the Simbas #RWC2023 campaign ended in premium tears at the repechage tournament, there are a lot of positives to pick from the Simbas in 2022.
First up was the Currie Cup first division campaign, where they finished with 3 wins against Border Bulldogs (35-12), SWD Eagles (51-35) and EP Elephants (41-24), the last two most memorably coming at the RFUEA grounds. At this point in mid July, we were heading to the African RWC qualifiers, which were inexplicably held in France (still don’t understand this!), we all fancied our chances of making it to the 2023 World Cup, and rightfully so!
If there is one thing we can pick from the Simbas in 2022 is that we need to consistently play at the Currie cup level and above to have any realistic chance of qualifying for a World cup.
A routine 42-7 drubbing of the nagging neighbours kicked of our RWC charge, followed by hands down the match of the year, that last minute 36-33 win over Algeria (I still get chills!), to set up a final showdown against Namibia. We were never at the races against Namibia and lost 36-0, relegating us to the repechage route.
To say that we were not prepared for the Repechage tournament would be an understatement, after maybe three weekend camps and an internal training match, we went on to face pre tournament favourites USA. The 68-14 loss was kind to us, Portugal didn’t have time for such kidness (coupled with 12 changes to the Simbas side) as they blanked us 85-0 on their way to claiming that slot to the world cup.
Before that last match against Hong Kong, the players ‘downed their boots’ in protest of unpaid dues, they basically did not train in the run up to the game, we went on to suffer an agonising 22-18 loss.
All said and done, the Simbas in 2022 were a welcome sight, probably for the first time since the times of #SimbaNiMoja…they made us believe! On the individual front Samwel Asati (two time MoTM in France), Vincent Onyala, John Okoth, Thomas ‘Big Tom’ Okeyo and Bethwel Anami were the stand out players! Collins Injera also had time to remind any doubters that he still is the real deal!
The 2021/22 season saw fans back into the grounds after the covid restrictions were lifted, while the effects of covid on the teams was evident in the wide rift between the top three sides; Kabras, Menengai Oilers and KCB, there was no denying Kabras that second Kenya Cup title.
Kabras beat Menengai Oilers 34-28 in a see-saw final at the Kakamega showground, to reach here Kabras saw off Strathmore in the semi finals while Oilers beat KCB at the den to end the lions’ four year chokehold on the league title. Tang Tang went ahead to complete the league and cup double with a 9-6 win over the Lions.
The season will however be remembered as the one that saw a relegation battle pitting traditional Kenya cup giants in Mwamba, Nakuru, Quins, Impala and Nondies, with the last two eventually getting the chop. As mentioned earlier the economic impact of Covid was felt more by others, unfortunately the community clubs were hardest hit.
Mwamba’s 39-30 loss to KCB, Nakuru’s 13-8 win over Oilers, Nondies’ 20-18 result over Impala and Strathmore’s 19-17 win over Quins, were among the highlight matches of the season.
On the individual front Geoffrey Ominde, Crispin Shitundo, Jone Kubu, Peter Waitere and that man Collins Injera were among the stand out performers.
Fall of Sevens
It was a year to forget for the darlings of Kenya rugby, the Shujaa, as they fell to new lows, losing to Madagascar and Uganda in the Africa cup. This led to the dismisal of head coach Namcos Simiyu and part of his technical bench.
In came Damian Mcgrath to try stop the slide, an issue that he is still grapling with, in his own words it has been a tough six months where he has done more fundrasing than coaching.
We finished the 2022 season in 12th place, on 49 points, with a 5th place semi final exit and 12th place finish at the Commonwealth and World cup respectively. Currently the team sits in 14th position, on 9 points, we left Hong Kong without registering a win.
The team has been operating in tough conditions, going months without allowances, the issues coming to the fore just as they were travelling for the Dubai and Capetown legs. Since then, the team has secured a sponsor in Sportpesa and we hope the performances on the field will improve.
Shujaa have their work cut out for the them with the world series set to be trimmed to 12 teams after this season. The 15th ranked team after the Toulouse leg will be relegated, with the teams ranked 12th, 13th and 14th entering a four-team relegation play-off together with the Challenger Series winners at the final leg in London.
Also we need to cross our fingers that South Africa finish in the top four slots, otherwise we will be facing them for an Olympic slot in the African qualifiers. What a year ahead!
Return of Tournaments
The lifting of Covid-restrictions meant that in 2022 we enjoyed a full calendar of events for the first time since 2019, well almost full, with the Safari sevens and Great rift ten a side tournaments not held.
The Nyayo National stadium played host to the 2022 Barthes Cup, welcoming the best U20 sides from the continent, a tournament eventually won by Zimbabwe, with Kenya’s Chipu, coming in third.
The highlight however was the return of the sevens caravan, with all six hosting clubs puting up a proper show backed by an array of sponsors. If I had to pick one, it had to be the Kabeberi sevens.
The teams also did not dissapoint, as we witnessed the most exciting circuit ever, with six winners from the six legs; KCB at Kabeberi, Strathmore at Christies, Mwamba at Driftwood, Oilers at Prinsloo, Homeboyz at Dala and Kabras at Kakamega, as Menengai Oilers eventually took the overall crown on the last day of the last leg in Kakamega.
The women’s series was also just as exciting, with three winners from the three legs; Nakuru at Kabeberi, Mwamba at Christie and Impala at Prinsloo, as Kulabu wrapped up the year’s clean sweep by lifting the overall circuit title.
At the tail end of the year, we also had successful editions of the Impala Floodlits and Victoria Cup pre season tournaments, won by KCB and Kabras respectively.
2022 will probably be remembered for the issues of governance at the Kenya Rugby Union, which hit a crescendo when the Kenya 7s players begged their fans to help them sort their day to day bills as they had gone months without pay.
Earlier, the Simbas had boycotted training over a similar issue, the Lionesses had gone through a longer duration without pay, the union’s secretariat too. The Simbas and Shujaa head coaches had to go out and fundraise for their teams on multiple occassions, with sponsors hesitant to work with the Union. There was the story of the boggled Safari sevens.
We could go on and on with the issues at KRU, but the solution is simple, we need to elect people who can actually manage this game properly! Clubs need to stop this ‘mtu yangu’ nonesense when electing union officials and place people who can take the came back to its former glory! Fans also need to take responsibility, go back to your clubs, take up membership and put your club’s leadership to task! Hashtags and online noise will not help!
We have a great product, the sevens series and floodies showed that sponsors still want to associate with this product, we just need to sort ourselves out. Early in November we had over 85 players representing the nation, across sevens and fifteens, we have a good thing here, we just need to clean house!
2022 came with more downs than ups, but more importantly it came with lessons, ones I hope that we will learn from and look back at, and be glad we did.
Finally, to quote Biko Zulu, “It’s been a good year, mostly because we are alive and we are healthy and we are favoured.” Here is to those we started the year with but are not here to see it end, Stephanie Rose Otieno, Jerry Olola…
May the festive season be kind to you and yours, see you all on the other side of the year.
KWISHA… Nimeruka Nje!!!