When Kenya Harlequins centre Leroy Kamau first received word that he had made the Kenya Simbas provisional squad for the upcoming Rugby Africa Cup (RAC) fixtures, he could not contain the surge of joy that took over him.
Partially because it was his maiden national call up, but principally because at that very moment, he traversed back his rugby journey, reminiscing of all hurdles he had to painfully overcome.
The former Mount Kenya University (MKU) Thika Titans RFC and Blakblad man, has defied all sorts of odds to rise from a novice nationwide player to earning his maiden national call up in just under four years.
The 22-year-old’s strings of fine display for the university side were enough to sway Quins technical bench, which made him part of their 2020 new season recruits.
Born in a prisons staff training college in Ruiru, where both his parents are officers in 1998, Kamau first taste of rugby was in 2013 at Burieruri Boys Secondary School, Maua town, Meru County. It was here that he fell in love with the game.
The decision to join the sport, he says, was because he wanted to try something different from his friends who played soccer, and also because of the respect rugby players were being afforded, back then in his school.
“I first played rugby in high school while in form one. My passion for the game saw me become a key member of the squad while still at a young age. This is because I had already made up my mind about playing rugby, hence I was not distracted. Also, I had a passion for the game,” he told the Scrummage.
His main obstacle while starting up, he recalls, was balancing between being a student and playing rugby, an ill-famed sport at his school back then.
“Definitely coming from a set-up not known for playing rugby, we had to fight in convincing teachers about the game. We ended up being in the wrong most of the time with them since the sport wasn’t that famous. I got a lot of punishments for being in the school team squad,” he said.
Regardless of the setback, Kamau led his school to the Meru Region Rugby school game title in 2016, the only accolade he ever won while in high school.
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He later joined MKU Thika Campus immediately after high school in 2017 to pursue a degree in Business Management, specializing in Procurements. It was here, coupled with his rich high school rugby training, that he joined MKU Thika RFC.
“I have countless memories with MKU Thika team. It was here that I shaped my insights and career. We did not accomplish a lot, but I found friends that I could align my dreams with. I was part of the team that won both Driftwood and Christies Sevens division II title that year,” he said.
Later in 2018, MKU Thika RFC were banned for one year by Kenya Rugby Union on grounds of fielding an ineligible player, in their Nationwide Central Region final clash with Kiambu RFC.
The ruling left Kamau thirsting for the game. Staying out of rugby for such a long time did not sit well in his head. It was then, during the 2019 Kenya Cup preseason that he decided to join Kenyatta University’s (KU) Blakblad. RFC.
From trading his skills at the nationwide skills, playing in Kenya Cup posed as the next step in his ladder of challenges. Kamau confessed he never backed down from the challenge.
It was at Blakblad that his career took shape as he was immediately incorporated into the Blakblads’s Kenya Cup squad.
“My move to KU was of God’s timing. I arrived at a time when they were in search for centres and they groomed my naive self for the role. Blad gave me the belief and the platform. They have a good coaching staff that helped me sharpen my skills since Kenya cup required a lot than Nationwide,” he said.
For his best and worst memories at Blad’s camp, Kamau said, “Being a part of the culture of Blakblad and being part of Kenya Cup goes down as my best moment at KU. We played from our hearts. The most devastating moment is hurting my shoulder during the 2019 Kabeberi Sevens. The injury was so severe that I had to sit out the 2020 Kenya Cup season before the pandemic,”
His two-year stint at Blad came to a halt in January, when he signed for former Kenya Cup three-peat champions Kenya Harlequins. The move, he said, came after his parent’s approval.
Kamau has made a name for himself, starting in three of four Kenya Cup games for Quins this season (against Impala and Kabras), including his debut during the seasons curtain raiser, Sisimka Charity Cup against Kabras RFC on February.
“I have always adored the mighty Quins for their prowess in building and crafting of top class players, so when the opportunity came and my parents approved of it, I took it. To me it was a career changing move. My short stay at Quins has been amazing, I am getting better due to the vast mentorship from coaching staff and experienced players. It is just phenomenal,” he said.
His short stay with the Ngong-Road side has seen Kamau rise to become an integral figure in the Plasman-coached side, his performances convincing Kenya Simbas head coach Paul Odera to include him in the Simbas provisional squad for the upcoming Rugby Africa Cup games.
“It is truly a dream come true. I have always dreamt of playing for the Simbas, I can’t say much about the subject because I haven’t made the cut yet, but I hope to find my way to the squad, I am working towards achieving that,” he said.
Locally, Kamau mentioned five players that he looks up to, based on their individualistic skills. Bob Muhati, Max Kang’eri and Eden Agero form part of the team. Internationally, Kamau fancies former Hurricanes hard runner Ngani Laumape and New Zealand great Ma’a Nonu.
“I pick Bob Muhati and Max Kang’eri for their ball-carrying abilities, Patrice Agunda and David Ambunya for what they have achieved and Eden Agero for his skills. I hope to be as close as good as them, and to be playing alongside some of them is a dream come true. Internationally there’s Maa Nonu and Ngani Laumape, for their abilities to break the defense,” he said.
“Finally, Wesley Kidinga has been a great mentor and a selfless chairman. He sets the right path that I look up to,” he added.
Beside rugby, Kamau loves to engage himself in charity works back in his village. He advices upcoming players on the importance of patience, hard work and consistency.
“Off field, I am a member of Hearts of Ruiru where we help those less fortunate through sports. We try to get high school scholarships to those who have no means, but possess a talent in sports. My advice to the upcoming lads is: ‘do what you love with your consistency and hard work’”, he said.
Coach Antoine Plasman described Leroy as a player who is keen to improve himself and he believes we will rise to among the dependable players both for the club and National Team.
“He is the kind of player who always asks for a lot of feedback to improve himself, to be more useful to the team and to help everybody to play at his best,” Plasman stated.
“On the physical side, he is a low gravity and strong player which makes him really difficult to tackle, especially when he is at full speed. We used mostly those qualities on an inside centre position, but Leroy showed as well that he is a skilled player who can go for the spaces and create mismatches,” the coach added.
“Unfortunately, with the shortened season and the fact he took a red card (and a few suspension weeks) during Simsika Cup, he missed some games to show us his full potential, but I am quite sure he will be a strong leader for the team during the coming seasons, and maybe even for the Simbas.” He concluded.
Name: Leroy Mbugua Kamau
Club: Kenya Harlequins
Playing position: Inside centre
Previous Clubs: MKU Thika (2016-2019), Blakbad (2019-2021)
Accolades: Christies and Driftwood Division II (2017)