He goes by the title ‘King of the Skies’. A title bequeathed to him due to his unmatched prowess line out skills.
But, that is not the only skill up the sleeves of KCB rugby’s towering second rower Oliver ‘Olishe’ Mangeni.
His experience in the game of rugby vastly equates to his enormous contribution for both his club and national team successes.
St Mary’s Yala
His rugby journey, as he narrates to The Scrummage, began in 2005 while a student at St Mary’s Yala High School.
“My ruby tale began while I was in form three. Initially I was a basketball player for the school team. I was later dropped off the school basketball team for not being able to perform a left lay-up. That was when I decided to join the rugby team,” he says with a mild laugh.
Although he was always fond of the game, the stereotypical idea that rugby players did not perform well academically, coupled with the fear of his parent’s reaction to him playing rugby, had hindered him to joining the school team at an earlier stage.
“I always liked the game but was a bit reserved because of the stereotypical ideas between rugby players and their academic performance. Hence, during my first years of High School, I held back my thirst for the game,” he said.
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His professional career started shortly after, when he joined Mwamba RFC in 2009. His stay at Kulabu was short-lived however, when KCB came calling a year later.
“I went pro when I joined Mwamba in 2009, then playing for their Eric Shirley Shield (ESS) side. A year later, in 2010, KCB inquired about my services and that is how I landed at the den,” he said.
Move to KCB
His incorporation at the banker’s camp was immediate, when he was quickly drafted for the 2010 Nakuru 10s quad. It was at the tournament that Mang’eni was handed his first game for the bankers.
“It was great moment and experience to finally don the jersey, although I left the tournament with a deep-cut injury to my face,” he said.
Since his debut, Mang’eni has gone to win four Kenya Cup titles, four Enterprise Cup titles, and has received 40 international caps for the Kenya Simbas, in his ten-year tenure with the bankers.
His utmost moment, he says, is the three-peat Kenya Cup conquests of 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“My stay with KCB has been a successful one. The club has propelled me to feature for the Kenya Simbas in many occasions. This, together with the back to back Kenya Cup triumph since 2017 to 2019, will always serve as my greatest moments for the club,’ he said.
His most grieving moment at KCB, he revealed, was the 20-13 defeat at the hands of Nakuru RFC during the 2014 Kenya Cup finals.
“I had been elected captain for that whole season. I was looking forward to guiding the team to the coveted top prize. Unfortunately, things did not run our way and as the captain, I was left devastated,” he said.
Of that, Mangeni speaks of being an open minded player whom these memories have always served him with the greatest lessons that has in turn shaped him to be the player he is.
“My stint with the bankers has been a real catchy eye opener. Through the interactions, I have realized that there is a lot of rugby talents in these country that needs to be nurtured. Whether as a player, a coach or team managers,” he spoke.
It was not until 2012 that Mang’eni received his first call up to the Kenya Simbas, then under head coach Mike ‘Tank’ Otieno.
Although he was later axed from the squad, Mangeni kept his head high. He knew his time would come sooner than later.
The appointment of Jerome Paarwater as Kenya Simbas head coach a year later in March 2013, table-turned Mang’eni’s fortunes, as he was recalled back to the national team.
“I was discouraged when I was dropped from the team in 2012. Luckily Jerome (Paarwater) had seen something in me and he brought me back on board when he was appointed head coach in 2013, and I think I never disappointed,” he said.
His debut for the national team, as he vividly recalls, came during the open leg of the 2013 Elgon Cup in a damp Moi Sport Center Kasarani Stadium, where the Simbas narrowly lost 17-16.
“We had just landed from Cape Town South Africa where we had just had some strenuous training. We rested on Thursday, had captain’s run on Friday, then Saturday was game-day. Everybody was sore and tired in that game. Luckily we went on to win the cup the following weekend in Kampala,” he said.
For all these experiences, Mang’eni reveals his rugby journey is as a result of sheer embracement of hard work and commitment, which has been catapulted by inspirations drawn from more experienced players.
His biggest inspiration, he naked, are former South Africa and Blue Bulls lock Victor Matfield and former Ireland, Munster and British and Irish Lions second rower Paul O’Connell.
“To me, Victor Matfield and Paul O’Connell are the best 5s the world has ever had. I always picked lessons when watching them play. They have been my greatest inspirations,” he said.
For the young protégés looking up to him, Mang’eni stressed on the importance of sharpening ones ‘will’ in the rugby career. He also called for stakeholders coming on board to help fund the game.
“Talent and skill is a necessity in rugby, but the will to boldly step into the game is the ultimate weapon. If we can also fund these young talents to realize their future, rugby in this country will thrive,” he said.
Name: Oliver Mangeni Kizito
Height: 196cm, 6ft 5
Achievements and Medals: 4 Kenya Cup title (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019), 4 Enterprise Cup titles (2011, 2015, 2016, 2017), Africa Cup titles (2013), 2 Sevens Circuit titles (2014, 2015), 9 national circuit medals (4 Prinsloo, 2 Driftwood, 2 Kabeberi, 1 Dala), 40 international caps (5 tries) , 167 KCB Kenya Cup appearances, 3 World 7s Sevens Tournaments, 23 Bamburi Super Series appearances, 27x Man Of The Match accolades, Club Top Try Scorer 2018/19.