If there was a word that could summarise the Kenya rugby year 2023, it would be… Wueh! The year was almost like a coin, for every good, there was an equally bad, but mostly a worse side. Before we start I’d suggest you check out my predictions for 2023, here… yes I am taking gigs to predict your future.
From Kabras completing the 15s holy grail, by going back to back in the Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup and joining the invincibles club, to the Kenya Lionesses sending two teams out at the same time and retaining their WXV3 status, KCB winning the local sevens series, as Shujaa fell to a new low by being relegated from the World sevens series, yet going on to qualify for the 2024 Olympics…
The Simbas finishing 8th at the Currie Cup even after missing four of their fixtures, Chipu hosting both the Barthes Cup and Junior World Trophy, the return of the Safari 7s, and a new chairman at KRU…let’s look back at 2023, shall we?
In 2023, Kabras Rugby joined a very distinct big boys club, as they completed a whole 15s season unbeaten, going back to back, by picking up both the Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup titles. They beat an all too familiar and stubborn foe in KCB, 19-9 in the Kenya Cup final in Kakamega, following this up with a brilliant 30-27 comeback win at the RFUEA grounds.
Like 2022, the year belonged to Tang Tang Rugby, who confirmed that the dominance shifted from the den to the forest, especially with that Enterprise Cup win with a very young side. Quins had a great run in the league especially in the 2023 calendar year, going on to make the playoffs, and now look like that fourth horse everyone was asking for.
Oilers seemingly suffered from their success and injuries, failing to replicate their 2022 success across the board, the Monks, Mwamba, Nakuru and Homeboyz doing well to hold on to their topflight status.
A special mention to Blak Blad who turned the Blad bin into a nightmare for visiting teams, not losing a home game in the season, a record only shared with the champions Kabras!
Mwamba became the first women’s side to go back-to-back in the Kenya Cup, as they staged a dramatic 21-20 comeback win against Impala after trailing 17-3 at the halftime break at the Impala Club.
Nondies returned to the top flight as they marked their centurion with a 24-6 win over Kisumu, both teams punching their tickets to the 23/24 Kenya Cup season, with Machine and MMUST going in the opposite direction. Mombasa picked up the Nationwide title after beating JKUAT 26-16, both sides earning promotion to the Championship.
The year belonged to the Lionesses, as the XVs side finished second in the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup in Madagascar, after recording 29-20 and 52-3 wins over Madagascar and Cameroon, respectively before losing 48-0 to the Springbok ladies. That second-place finish saw the Lionesses qualify for the inaugural edition of the WXV3.
The Lionesses went on to play two warm-up matches in South Africa, vs the hosts and San Clemente Rhinos ahead of their WXV3 campaign. They went on to maintain their WXV3 status by finishing fourth after an 18-12 loss to Kazakhstan and an impressive 21-5 win against Colombia.
Later on in the year, the XVs Lionesses made easy work of the UG Lady Cranes, steamrolling to a record 87-3 win at the Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Kisumu, to retain the Elgon Cup.
Most notably though, for women’s rugby in the country, we sent out two full teams on duty at the same time, the Lionesses XVs to the WXV3 tournament in Dubai (13-28 October), and the 7s side to Tunisia for the Rugby Africa 7s, which doubled up as the Olympic qualifier in Tunisia (14-15 October).
The 7s side finished second in Tunisia, losing 12-7 to South Africa, and will go on to play in the repechage tournament for that final ticket to the 2024 Olympic games in Paris.
I maintain that the Lionesses are our best bet at making a Fifteens Rugby World Cup!
It was a busy year for Chipu as they hosted the Barthes Cup and Junior World Rugby Trophy, between April and July at the Nyayo Stadium, both those campaigns ending in losses to Zimbabwe, 28-7 in the Barthes Cup final and a 64-10 drubbing at the U20 Trophy fifth place final.
Chipu’s year can be summarised in one word, preparation, the team was undercooked from the word go, with the likes of Zimbabwe having a full year of preparations ahead of the Barthes Cup. They went on to face the likes of Samoa and Spain in the U20 Trophy, going toe to toe against them before the clear lack of preparations came to the fore to record 34-25 and 48-18 losses, respectively.
The 22-16 win over Honk Kong stands as a testament to what the team can achieve if we pay a bit more attention to our preparations. Zimbabwe specifically will be our new headache going into this World Cup cycle, they have leapfrogged us in the 2027 RWC qualification pecking order.
One thing is for sure, the future is bright with this set of Chipu players, with the right development, we will be at a very good place.
It was rather silent for the Simbas in 2023, playing at the Currie Cup Mzansi Challenge, from April and a watered-down Victoria Cup later in the year. The highlight for the Simbas has to be the return of Jerome Paarwater as head coach, with Carlos Katywa and Curtis Olago as his assistants. Given time, these three can lead us to a World Cup.
In terms of results, we saw off Zambia in the 36-12 Victoria Cup, going on to make unnecessary hard work of Uganda who were lucky to beat us 21-20 in Kampala, before we confirmed the Elgon Cup title with a 20-13 result in Kisumu.
In the Currie Cup, we missed our first two games against the Boland Kavaliers and the Leopards, going on to lose 33-22 and 18-7 to San Clemente Rhinos(after arriving on the Friday before the match in Saturday) and Eastern Province respectively, then beating the Border Bulldogs 30-26 and the Zimbabwe Goshawks 48-7 in Nakuru. We then missed the fixture against Valke and SWD Eagles (in Nairobi).
We saw a very new and disjointed Simbas side at the Victoria and Elgon Cup fixtures, with a good chunk of players either going pro, playing for Shujaa, or out with injury. As 2024 rolls on we hope to see Jerome start settling on a side that will take him through this cycle.
On 23rd May 2023, the Kenya Sevens lost their status as a core side of the world rugby sevens series, after a 12-7 loss to Canada, in a relegation play-off final, at the London Sevens.
That result saw Kenya’s 19-year run as a core side at the World Series come to a disappointing end, in what still seems like a bad dream. Shujaa had however toyed around with relegation since that famous win in Singapore, in 2023, it finally came to pass! Our general approach to Shujaa came back to bite us.
After being relegated, KRU installed a new technical bench led by Kevin ‘Bling’ Wambua, who managed to dust itself up and reconstitute a team that beat the BlitzBokke 17-12 at the Africa 7s in Harare, booking their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Shujaa went on to claim the Safari 7s title, with a 19-0 victory over Samurai, with the Morans finishing 5th after beating the National sevens series winners KCB 26-0.
This might be rock bottom for Shujaa, which features a very young squad after the seasoned players moved on to ‘better’ things, either of their own volition or by circumstance. The team now turns its attention to reclaiming that core status, with only three legs of the Challenger series between them and the qualifier tournament in Madrid on 31 May – 2 June 2024.
Shujaa’s path back to core status is a tough one, and it is made even tougher by the fact that it doesn’t seem that we’ll get any playing time outside the Challenger series. We wait and see…
After several attempts, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Mutai, finally became chairman of the Kenya Rugby Union, on March 29th, 2023. His tenure is probably the toughest one yet for a chairman, who inherited a game that was in the pits. So far, he has managed to secure key sponsorships from SportPesa and Tusker, as well as getting back the Safari 7s, running the National Sevens Circuit, and the return of the Victoria Cup to the rugby calendar.
It, however, looks like Sasha is a lone ranger, with infighting against his Secretary General Ray Olendo (the two currently in court), and him taking a ‘savior’ role in the board rather than a collaborative one, with part of the board taking a step back to let him do the heavy lifting.
On the flip side, the Lionesses and Shujaa not traveling to Dubai for the invitational tournament stands out like a sore thumb, from where I sit, it was a proper logistical gaffe from the Union, who for some reason waited for air tickets from the government till the last minute. How Tisap 7s won the bid to host the tournament and went on to put up that shit show is still to be explained… Here’s hoping we plan better going forward.
We recorded the 50th episode of Our Rugby Stories, and who better than the Fijian rugby legend, Africa’s all-time sevens top try scorer, Collins Injera, to grace the occasion… just in case you missed that episode, click below.
We also had Sinaida Aura, George Asin, Mark Mshila, Lawrence Terer, Louis Kisia, Charles Cardovillis, and Lucas Onyango. We also started a new segment, ‘Story za Rugby Na Tusker’ in partnership with Tusker, which highlighted the stories of young upcoming players during the sevens series, check it out below.
Here is to telling even more stories in 2024 and beyond…
In other important 2023 news, the Boks went bok-to-bok, becoming the most successful side in Rugby World Cup history (Played 8, won 4). The rest can go pick their records from Bomas of Kenya.
All in all, it is another year that we have been privileged to enjoy this sport that they play in heaven. Asanteni sana to everyone who has kept us company (and joined us for those RWC watch parties), the players who make it all possible, our guests, and the people who do the thankless job of putting in the hard work, behind the scenes, the KRU Secretariat, team officials, support staff, volunteers… we appreciate you!
Kwa hayo machache, be good to each other, and let’s do it again next year…here is to a bigger, better, and happier 2024!
KWISHA… Nimeruka Nje!!