Three National 15s titles, a double in FEASSSA 15s, two Dubai 7s appearances and four National 7s titles were some of the honours the towering, burly coach Dr Ochieng Ahaya got with Kakamega School.
During his time in charge, the tactician mentored Paul Murunga, Brian Nyikuli, John Asila, the late Sebastian Shivoga, Duncan Lanya, Fabian Olando, Marlin Mukolwe, Augustine Lugonzo, Mike Agevi, Martin Tavale, Oscar Okaron just to mention a few.
The question that may be in many people’s minds is how did he become so good at rugby?
Ahaya, spent the better part of his high school education playing basketball as rugby was not a common sport during his high school days. He also featured in football as a goalkeeper.
“Rugby is a young game in schools outside urban centres like Nairobi. I went to St Peter’s between 1986 -1989 and there was no rugby like today.,” he revealed.
“I had an interest in sports, I was a serious basketball player and also served as a goalkeeper in inter-house.
After he joined Kakamega High as a teacher, he went on to serve as an assistant coach of the famous Green Commandos under the late Chris Makokha as the side dominated the local scene.
“When I went to Kakamega, I had a chance to work with Chris who had a powerful system in football. He taught me a lot and when I became a rugby coach I employed some of the tacts.”
Having played basketball in high school, his dream was to lead the team unfortunately it did not happen. The rugby team, on the other hand, did have a coach and that is how his rugby coaching journey started.
His urge to become better in what he does saw him equip himself with rugby knowledge and attended more rugby clinics. He credits Rugby Development Officer Stuart Urquhart for bettering his knowledge in rugby which he fused with what he learnt under Makokha while leading the football team.
“I wanted to be the basketball coach but the team had a good coach so I had to take over rugby. I am a keen reader and I like to explore, then there was a lot of development then,” he added.
“With the game growing there was a need for coaches. Urquhart contributed seriously in developing my interest and understanding the game at the coaching point of view. Since then I have never gone back.”
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Building a winning team was a challenge according to the tactician who is currently the Head Coach at MMUST. He had first to instil discipline in the team and rebrand it in a way that was appealing to the school administration.
“The Deputy principal had a bad opinion about the team and people associated rugby with devil-worshipping. I had to instil in disciplined and with KRU being supportive then, I went for a lot of clinics and immediately implemented what I learnt,” he revealed.
“My students- the likes of Paul Murunga used to take up the lessons well.”
Through the exchange programs and having students who had a lot of interest in rugby saw the side build a strong culture and their efforts paid off. They became the first team outside Nairobi and Nakuru to win the national title in 2000.
“We were lucky to have a group that was keen on rugby. They came with books and quality balls for our training. They also had the skills,” he explained. “We also got the Union’s support and support from exchange programs from Europe.
“Having disciplined and strong players from Western saw us improve a lot.”
Ochieng revealed that for them to become Champions in 2000, they studied favourites St Mary’s Yala who were the better side. Together with his assistant Silenge, they laid strategies to counter Yala’s strengths and their plan worked well to hand them the title.
“Yala were tough and deserved to win, we analyzed their game plan and knew how to deal with them,” Ochieng stated.
“We had to ensure their fly-half was not making his long passes and cartel their lineouts. One thing we did together with my assistant Mr Silenge was reading our opponents.”
The 2000 National victory was just the beginning of a successful journey. Ochieng went on to guide the Barbarians to more 15s titles in 2002 and 2009, became the first coach to win a FEASSSA 15s double in 2008 and 2009.
Besides 15s success, he had an impressive 7s team that won National titles in 2004, 2008 and 2010. After 2004 and 2008 victories, the Barbarians also represented the nation in Dubai 7s under 19 category.
2008 saw the side make history, reaching the final where they lost to the Russian team, Doveri 17-12 in a match that Joash Yongo and Fabian Olando scored a try each.
Ochieng says his team had mastered the game well to the level their beauty in the shorter version of the game attracted the whole school to love rugby and his team went to the level of threatening other teams internationally.
“Being a 7s coach is like a watchmaker you have to make the 7 people work as one. 7s requires a lot of thinking and precision,” the tactician said.
“During my time, 7s was beautiful and we were able to turn the school around, even workers who had no interest in the sport fell in love with rugby. Kakamega had mastered 7s and even though we were not accepted locally, we were later accepted internationally.
“I remember in Dubai we were very impressive against National sides we faced the likes of Wales U-19 but still reached the final of Dubai 7s.”
He revealed his winning formula is 7s which included sticking to basics, using their strong points to their advantage and have players that were well exposed
“My boys were very goodand we used basics, committed our opponents and made passes that propel your teammate,” Ochieng concluded. “My players had exploited a lot and had exposure locally and international. We also tailored the game around our strong points.”
The former Western Region Development officer challenged rugby development officers to work more on developing talents especially in the Western Region where rugby booming.
Watch his full interview here: