NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 22 – It was a season of incredible highs and crushing lows for the national rugby teams in the 2015/16 campaign that culminated in mourning with the sudden deaths of two Kenya Cup players due to pitch-related injuries.
It was a season where Kenya Sevens wrote history by winning their first ever HSBC World Sevens Series Main Cup title, Kenya Lionesses make their debut in the corresponding Women’s World Series, Kenya 15s reclaim the Elgon Cup, Kabras Sugar win their maiden Kenya Cup while Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) received a Sh607 million sponsorship from betting firm SportPesa.
-The incredible highs-
Since being promoted as a Core team in 1999-2000 season, 2016 saw the Kenya Sevens Shujaa reach a milestone by defying all the odds to lift their first ever Cup title after stunning champions Fiji 30-7 in the Singapore 7s final.
The re-appointment of former player Benjamin Ayimba at the helm played a big role in the success hence his shortlisting for the Coach of the Year in the Sports Personality of the Year Awards scheduled for January 20, 2017.
Having previously led Kenya to a third place finish at the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens, Ayimba retained most of the experienced players like Collins Injera and his elder brother Humphrey Kayange while adding young talent such as Nelson Oyoo, Frank Wanyama, Jeffery Oluoch and Robert Aringo.
From the 10 World Series legs, Kenya amassed 98 points to finish seventh overall, their second ever performance after Mike Friday led the side to fifth (99) in 2013.
It was a massive improvement from the previous year where they flirted with relegation under the tutelage of Felix ‘Totty’ Ochieng before finishing 13th on 46.
The 43-0 demolition of Portugal in a group match in Canada’s Vancouver 7s was their biggest victory margin while the 36-0 mauling they were handed by New Zealand at the Wellington 7s accounted for their worst reverse.
Shujaa scored 751 points and 120 tries over the season.
-Injera breaks Cora’s record-
Kenya’s winger and vice captain Collins Injera was instrumental in contributing to the 120 tries, where he grounded 32 tries that saw the 30-year-old break Santiago Gomez Cora’s long standing record to become the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series all-time leading try scorer with 235.
The free-scoring Injera saw his superb performance rewarded when he was nominated for the #TheGreatestMoment, an initiative introduced by International World Rugby Board and he was leading with a massive over 17,700 votes, way ahead of the Japan 15s team who were second on 2,427 by the time the voting closed.
Despite showing great potential, Ayimba and his side failed to live to their expectations at the 2016 Rio Olympics where the shorter version of the game was making its debut.
Shujaa were far from their best as they struggled to find a balance between hitting a winner and containing their errors.
Kenya lost all her group C matches, 31-7 at the hands of Great Britain, 28-5 to New Zealand and 31-7 to Japan.
Following the losses, Kenya played hosts Brazil in the 11th /12th playoff where they won to finish second last.
However, the team returned home to reclaim the local Safari Sevens tournament in Nairobi where they beat Samurai 38-21in the final though the second Kenya team; the Morans failed to win the Africa Cup Sevens after bowing out in the semi-final when they went down 17-12 to Uganda.
It was Ayimba’s last tournament as he was replaced by another former player Innocent Simiyu. In his first squad, seasoned players like Kayange, Biko Adema and Dennis Ombachi were dropped.
It was a developing year for the national women’s team who played international tournaments to be ranked second in Africa behind power house South Africa and 30th in the globe as the World Rugby introduced women ranking for the first time.
The Lionesses made their first ever appearance in the Women’s HSBC Sevens World Series after being invited to take part in the final round of the 2015/16 season in France.
They went on to play in the Roma 7s where they did well before heading to their first ever Olympics participation in Rio.
In Rio, the team only managed to beat Colombia 22-10 to finish 11th overall after they had lost all their group matches including their heaviest defeat of 52-0 to New Zealand.
The team also failed to win their first ever Africa Cup after narrowly going down 14-10 to South Africa. In Dubai 7s where they were invited, they finished fourth following their 17-10 defeat to Tribe.
But overall, the Lionesses had a good exposure that will help them be a formidable side for next year’s assignments.
It was an equally fantastic year for the Kenya 15s Simba side who reclaimed the Elgon Cup from Uganda.
The Simbas demolished their neighbours and archrivals 48-10 in the first leg in Nairobi at a packed RFUEA Grounds where KCB winger Darwin Mukidza was man of the match when he grounded a hat-trick.
Jerome Paawarter’s charges completed the job on July 30 at the same venue after beating Uganda 45-24 with Ronnie Mwenesi making his first start in over a year after being out with injury.
However, the Simbas failed to dominate in Africa following their 56-21 defeat to champions Namibia. Kenya had walloped Zimbabwe 61-15 and beat Uganda 45-24.
Kenya 15s rounded up their season on a high beating Hong Kong in a two Test matches in Nairobi. Simiyu, who was turning out for Impala before being appointed Kenya 7s head coach, skippered Kenya ‘A’, who humbled the visitors 24-18.
The second match saw Kenya thump Hong Kong 34-10 in a match that saw them rise to 22nd in the World Rugby rankings.
-Kabras win Kenya Cup-
The Kenya Cup was full of surprises as Kabras Sugar won their historic first ever league title since they were promoted in 2014. This is after beating Impala Saracens 19-5.
In the third place playoff, Kenya Harlequin beat outgoing champions KCB 36-29 while Impala II won the Eric Shirley Shield after a 19-11 victory over Kabras Sugar.
In the KRU National Sevens Circuit, Nakuru RFC’s dominance came to an end as Homeboyz lifted their maiden local title after collecting128 points.
Homeboyz dominated the series, winning three legs at Nakuru’s Prinsloo, Kisumu’s Dala and newly introduced Nanyuki 7s. They also reached two finals where they lost in Driftwood and Kabeberi.
The team went on to produce a huge chunk of players to the 2016-17 Kenya Sevens squad in the likes of Oscar Ayodi, Alvine Otieno, Leonard Mugaisi, Bush Mwale, Cyprian Kuto, and Augustine Lugonzo.
The year 2016 ended on a sad note with the abrupt deaths of youngsters Nondescripts center Ogeto Gecheo and Mwamba scrum-half Victor Wayodi while playing in the Kenya Cup.
Ogeto passed on at a Nairobi hospital where he was recuperating after suffering a freak injury during the club’s fixture against Strathmore Leos.
Ogeto, who was a starter in Nondies’ 43-10 loss to the Leos at their home-ground in Madaraka, picked up a spinal injury after a tackle and was stretchered into a waiting ambulance straight to hospital where he underwent surgery.
The 20-year old had plates affixed on his vertebral column but unfortunately lost the battle.
Just a week later on, the Kenyan rugby fraternity was mourning once again, this time the demise of Wayodi.
The scrum half suffered a cardiac arrest during their game against Nakuru RFC which ended 10-10 at the Impala Club and sadly passed on while being attended to at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital in Hurlingham.
-KRU redeem image-
The year started with KRU holding elections for the Vice Chairman, Secretary General, Treasurer and four Directors.
The biggest casualty was Philip Jalang’o who was floored by Nondescript chairman Thomas Opiyo in the race for the Vice-Chairman’s post.
Impala RFC boss Geoffrey Oduor Gangla was elected the Secretary General while Mombasa RFC chairman Joshua Aroni was elected the Treasurer unopposed.
The exit of the controversial Jalang’o attracted sponsors back to the Union with betting firm SportsPesa injecting Sh607m in sponsorship towards all the national teams. This came in handy to the Kenya Simbas who were without a title sponsor.