2020 has been an uneventful year especially for local rugby with matches having been suspended since March due to COVID-19 which halted many operations worldwide.
It has been 291 days without rugby and we are still counting. Scrummage reflects on some of the key events that happened within the year.
2020 started with Kenya Cup and Championship sides beefing up their squads for the remainder of the Kenya Cup season. Mwamba added the likes of Elvis Namusasi and Andrew Chogo from Mombasa and Kabras on loan deals. Impala signed Nesta Okoch( loan), John Kiilu, Bill Arigi, Tony Khadambi, Dennis Juma and Albert Obura.
Kabras brought in Zimbabwean Royal Mwale and Walter Okoth. Mwale, however, left the side for Poland after the Kenya Cup regular season. Nondies, Kenya Harlequins, Oilers and Nakuru were also involved in the transfer.
The teams were active again in the window that swung open from Monday 5 October 2020 to 30 November 2020. Kenya Harlequins made seven signings, Joshua Chisanga, Emmanuel Mavala, Ervin Asena and Philip Ikambili being some of their signings. Impala managed to lure Ken Moseti who reversed his retirement decision. Martin Juma also joined their camp as Samuel Motari and Kanyiri Kariuki left the club for Nondies.
Kabras traded with their neighbours for Edwin Ochieng’ Oyoo, Emmanuel Victor Oduor, Akala Teddy, Derrick Ashiundu and Aaron Adhanja from Mean Machine. The Sugarmen also roped in South African duo Ntokozo Vidima and Aphiwe Stemele. Mwamba managed to re-sign Charles Kuka as Wilfred Waswa Mark graduated from Northern Suburbs to KCB. Read more on the transfers here
Kenya Rugby Union announced the exit of Kenya 7s Head Coach and Technical Director Paul Feeney. Feeney had guided Shujaa to Africa Men’s 7s triumph which saw Kenya get a direct ticket to the Olympics. Feeney also reclaimed Safari 7s with Morans and also led the side to six legs of the World 7s Series. KRU immediately announced the position of the Head Coach was vacant and in September, Innocent Simiyu was picked to fill the slot once again.
Kabras parted ways with Henly Du Plessis citing family reasons for his exit. He had led Kabras in 34 matches, won 31, lost three, scored 1392 points and conceded 371 in the 34. The former Boland man delivered the first Enterprise Cup at Kabras and led them to the first-ever win against KCB.
Kenya Harlequins also went to the market in a bid to replace Dominique Habimana. Three foreign coaches were among the applicants and the side picked Belgian Antoine Plasman as Head Coach.
Coach Paul Odera also relinquished the Kenya Under 20 Head Coach role to concentrate on the Kenya Simbas job leaving the slot vacant.
Having shown flashes of brilliance in 2019 during the Safari 7s, Dubai and Cape Town 7s fans were full of confidence in Kenya 7s ahead of the final eight legs of the season. The team was boosted by the return of leading scorer Collins Injera who was back from injury. The speedster went on to make history as Hamilton was his 80th tournament in a Kenya 7s jersey. 2019’s Most Promising Player as per SOYA Awards Geoffrey Okwach was given his debut during the Hamilton trip.
Kenya 7s picked 10 points from Hamilton 7s with the biggest result being a 36-14 win over South Africa. It was the first win over Blitzboks since 12 December 2015.
A weekend later, Kenya would drop in form picking just a point at Sydney 7s. Ahead of America’s tour Kenya 7s recalled Oscar Ouma and Sammy Oliech who had been out since the 2017/18 season. Despite their presence Shujaa failed to star in the tournament with the best performance thereafter being six points at the six the round.
After the round, World Rugby announced that the series had been cancelled and New Zealand were declared champions as they were top of the log South and Fiji also received their medals. Kenya ended the season at position 12 after the six rounds with 35 points.
Vincent Onyala ended the season as the top try scorer once again with 13 tries in the six rounds. Alvin Otieno, Willy Ambaka had eight tries each. Collins Injera also dotted down eight times despite just featuring in 15 matches for Kenya.
After close to nine months off the field, KRU announced that it had invited 29 members to the camp ahead of the 2021 campaign. Simiyu’s charges started warming up of the Olympics with the majority of the legs having been cancelled while others have been postponed.
Safari 7s and Africa Men’s 7s which serve as Kenya 7s build-up tournaments to the series did not happen in 2020 due to the pandemic
Kenya Cup/ Enterprise Cup
Seven rounds of the Kenya Cup campaign were played between 11 January 2020 to 29 February. Kabras won all their 2020 matches while KCB drew in one of their seven matches. Kisumu who had an awful run in the campaign were relegated same to Western Bulls whose relegation was confirmed by their home defeat to Homeboyz.
In the run to the final matches of the season, Kisumu RFC were involved in an accident ahead their match against Nondies
Oilers qualified for playoffs for the first time in history, pipping their neighbours Nakuru to the final playoff slot. Homeboyz returned to the playoffs bracket after finishing third while Kenya Harlequins managed a ninth-place finish.
The campaign was however cut short just before the playoffs after the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country. The Union would move to cancel the season and after an uproar from clubs and fans, the decision was reversed.
The Union then resolved to cancel the Kenya Cup campaign but confirmed that Western Bulls and Kisumu who had been relegated will have to play in the second tier. Proposed fixtures are out with the hopes of starting off in January.
A number of matches will be on the screen come next season with KRU having signed a broadcast deal with MediaMax.
Just like the Kenya Cup season, the KRU Championship was suspended at a time when the teams were headed for playoffs. Egerton are scheduled to feature to in the playoffs for the first time while MMUST will make another attempt to qualify for Kenya Cup.
The Union ruled that playoffs will kick off the 2021 season with Mean Machine vs Egerton University and USIU vs Northern Suburbs playing to determine who will meet MMUST and Strathmore Leos in the clash that will determine who will be promoted. Kisii and Mombasa are set to play in the Nationwide having been relegated.
Kenya Under 20/ Simbas/ Lionesses
Kenya Under 20 were already gearing for the Barthes Cup title defence. Chipu had been won the title after edging Namibia 21-18 at KCB Sports in 2019. Good news was that Rugby Africa had selected Kenya to host the Barthes Cup for three straight years and the larger squad for the campaign preparations had been named. The 2020 edition was however postponed due to COVID-19.
Kenya Simbas were set to kick off the 2020 training with the provisional squad having been released but it did not happen due to the pandemic. The Rugby Africa Cup, Elgon Cup and Victoria were cancelled. Kenya Lionesses were set for Rugby Africa Cup, World Cup Repechage qualifier but were also forced to wait.
Death of Rugby members
Close to 11 members of the game including Tony Onyango, Allan Makaka, Sebastian Shivoka Shitambasi died in 2020. Read: Remembering rugby members who died in 2020
Rugby members and CSR Activities
Several rugby players were involved in social responsibility activities with the majority being directed toward helping the needy. Read more about rugby players put smiles on the faces of the needy.
Kenya Rugby League
2020 saw the emergence of the Rugby League, the first tournament happened at Railways where Nairobi based Wolves and Rhinos faced off in the finals of the tournament. The Wolves devoured on the hardened Rhinos to emerge champions with a 16-0 scoreline. Plans are underway to have a National Team ready for the next World Cup.
KRLF Management has turned to key names from the Rugby Union to spearhead their program. Edward Rombo has been handed the head coach role, Ex-Kenya 7s boss Benjamin Ayimba is the technical director, Charles Cardovillis, John Mbai, and Peter Miano have also landed slots at KRLF.
Kenya Secondary School started the year with build-up tournaments such as Maseno Opens, Lenana Opens, St Marys Yala, Kamusinga and Kibabii tournaments.
After the tournament’s teams embarked on the sub-county and County games. East African Champions Kakamega School retained the Kakamega County 15s as Koyonzo won the 7s. Vihiga High School and Chavakali won the 7s and 15s respectively in their county.
In Nyanza, Maseno managed a double in Kisumu County games. St Marys Yala bagged the 15s title with Chianda being crowned 7s Champions in Siaya.
Rift Valley had likes of Mogoiyuet, Olmelil from Narok County, Menengai and Utumishi from Nakuru County, and Kabianga, Kunyak from Kericho County reaching the regionals
Kwale, Shimba won the Kwale County rugby titles, Barani, Krapf were Kilifi Champions while Shimo La Tewa were the other side to bag two title at the counties.
After the County games, the schools had to close due to COVID-19 pandemic, the matches were cancelled including the East African games which were scheduled for Kakamega County.
Changing of homes
Kenya Cup side Nondies found a new home-The Jockey Club of Kenya. This was after signing a 10-year deal with The Jockey Club of Kenya. The deal saw them move from Jamhuri Grounds which has served as their ground for seasons to the Racecourse based facility.
Mwamba had to bid goodbye to their beloved Railways ground after parts of the pitch were used to construct a bus terminus.
AP/Wanyama & Olaba case, World 10s
Five Kenya 7s Stars Collins Injera, Willy Ambaka, Oscar Ouma, Oscar Dennis and Andrew Amonde helped SX10 win the Maiden World 10s Series Tournament held in Bermuda. Days after jetting back Dennis was involved in an accident.
Ex-Kenya Simbas, Blak Blad, KCB head coach Michael Otieno graduated with PhD from the University of Nairobi and he was joined on the graduating list by the likes of MMUST Captain Samuel Mbeche, Byrum Mukhonyi, Benjamin Marshal, Mark Samba, Barnabas Owuor, Lucas Oppal, Alloice Oduko and many others.
Several teams and Players also received bans in 2020… Read more players and team bans here.