“Rugby, a game of hooligans played by gentlemen.” The captain of University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine embodies this phrase especially on being a gentleman. The captain commands respect from teammates and opponents alike.
So long as he plays for your side, you have a good chance of winning. He is an invaluable asset and a mentor to look up to. His infectious attitude is hard to ignore, rallying his team mates like a marauding army against other clubs.
But what makes Joel Maingi, a 4th year economics student at the University of Nairobi, exude so much confidence and admiration?
“I started playing rugby in High School at Nairobi school where it was compulsory. After high school I was picked by Strathmore Leos before I joined University of Nairobi.
Maingi’s talent caught the attention of major rugby clubs at an early stage including Impala, Nakuru and Nondies, who were keen to sign him. But his heart was set on playing for University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine. However, he had got an admission to join Moi University. UoN’s games director and other officials pulled a few strings to get him a transfer to UoN to pursue Economics.
The 94Kgs, 6-foot centre is determined to restore Mean Machine’s lost glory as one of the rugby power-houses in the country.
“Several clubs have approached me (to play for them) but I am currently focused on making Mean Machine the club to be, the showstopper in Kenyan rugby scene,” says the self-effacing Maingi.
Maingi also plays for Kenya’s national 15 select as a center player – a highly competitive selection – considering the caliber of players in different clubs. He has played in all major tournaments for Mean Machine, the most memorable being the finals of the 2012 Impala Flood lights tournament where Machine lost narrowly (and painfully) to Nondies.
Winning tournaments is always a big moment but he cherishes the time he went to France for two weeks with the Kenya sevens team.
“The trip to France showed me how rugby can be a professional sport if measures are put in place. Training and playing alongside France – a powerhouse on their own right – was also a big plus for me,” says Maingi.
Maingi is strict on his training regimen, religiously training three days a week on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 5:30pm to 6:30pm in addition to regular gym sessions plus a strict diet schedule.
“I ensure that I am in the right form physically having done my warm ups and I listen to techno music to psyched me up before a game,” narrates Maingi.
But the rising star has had set-backs that almost threatened his passion as a rugby player including a serious injury.
“It was hard man. There was a time I was out of the pitch for 8 months after I injured my knee. Rugby is also quite an expensive affair as you have to buy your own supplements which are very costly and pay for the gym which the university does not provide,” says Maingi.
“I have had my lowest moments in rugby like losing that game to nondescripts or being dropped from the Kenya team that was to go play Uganda, but I don’t dwell on my failures. I get up, brush myself off and move on.”
Maingi looks up to Humphrey Kayange in terms of leadership and game quality while other players like Oscar Ouma, Collins Injera and Patrick Angunda also score favorably in his list of notable players. He admires the New Zealand All Blacks, South Africa, England, Australia and France teams. He aspires to play for the Crusaders or Stormers, one of the best rugby clubs in the world.
“I want to go international after campus. I have given myself a maximum of two year to play rugby in the international arena before coming back home to pursue my other career.”
As the captain of the Varsity team, he has to balance his academics with rugby and also manage attention from female fans.
“It can be tricky I have had girls calling me at odd hours of the night, receive weird texts but I believe the way a player portrays himself also matters if you stick to your principles then you don’t have to worry.”
“I am not single. I am in serious relationship so that also helps.”
Juggling classes and playing rugby is also a tight balance, but the secret, according to Maingi, is to organize time, following the timetable and finishing school workload before deadlines.
Contrary to expectations, he admits he is camera shy and prefers keeping a low profile
“I like keeping to myself. I just want a simple normal life.”
In his free time he prefers a cold Fanta, listening to music and watching movies /rugby games
In conclusion, Maingi says, “Have the heart and passion for the game, keep working hard and dedicate yourself to the game and the results will always show when you are improving.”