MILESTONES

Positive outlook despite relegation scare

Kenya has been a core side in the World Sevens Series since 2003

In Summary

• For the first time, the country's top prize, the Kenya Cup final, was hosted in Kakamega in May. 

• More girls have shown interest in the game lately.

Rugby player Collins Injera.
Rugby player Collins Injera.
Image: FILE

Oduor Gangla has achieved three milestones in his short tenure as the Kenya Rugby Union chairman.

After taking over the reins at Ngong Road in March, Gangla reckons that Kenya Sevens survival in the World Sevens Series last month is an important piece of history to start his four-year tenure with.

Shujaa survived by the skin of their teeth after finishing 13th with 37 points following a disastrous season in which they flirted with relegation right from the series opener in Dubai in December, where they bagged just a point out of a 10-point target.

Paul Murunga’s charges qualified for the Main Cup quarterfinals in the last leg in Paris, consequently bagging 10 points. This ensured their survival, fending off a spirited challenge from Japan, who finished the series with 27 points.

A pay dispute between senior players and the union was the main reason behind the collapse. More than 16 of them sat out the opening legs and only a handful, including Andrew Amonde, returned to restore the country’s dignity at the final hurdle.

“I always believed the boys will not get relegated. They showed character and determination and the return of some of the senior players at the tail end of the season helped us to keep our core status for next season,” Gangla said.

A pay dispute between senior players and the union was the main reason behind the collapse. More than 16 of them sat out the opening legs and only a handful, including Andrew Amonde, returned to restore the country’s dignity at the final hurdle.

Kenya has been a core side in the World Sevens Series since 2003

Gangla noted that lessons have been learnt and will be used to steer the side to greater heights starting with the Olympic qualifiers in November in South Africa.

“It was a season of transition. We brought a lot of young players through the ranks, including Johnstone  Olindi, Daniel Taabu and Vincent Onyala, who have shown their worth and will be valuable assets to the team in years to come,” he added.

Gangla noted that the Kenya Under 20 team’s qualification to the Junior Rugby World Cup in Brazil in July is also an outstanding feat. The side, known as Chipu, beat holders Namibia 21-18 in the African qualifiers final at the KCB Sports Club in April.

“The gap between us and Namibia has been narrowing for the last three years and to finally beat them on home soil was remarkable. It shows the future of Kenyan rugby is bright,” he said.

Gangla expressed confidence that the team will be competitive in Brazil, where they face Uruguay, Japan and Canada.

“It’s a tall order for the team but the spirit and the mood of the boys is competitive. I know they will do the country proud in the event and claim a scalp or two,” he said.

For the first time ever, the country's top prize, the Kenya Cup final, was hosted in Kakamega in May. The match was between Kabras and KCB.

In addition, Western Bulls, Kabras, Menengai Oilers, Nakuru RFC and Kisumu will be playing in the top tier. Gangla said this shows the game is growing in leaps and bounds away from its traditional base in Nairobi.

“It shows the game is growing and we have top teams able to compete with Nairobi’s best clubs and make the league competitive. This gives the game a national feel,” he observed.

Gangla says there are plans to introduce the sport at primary school level, adding: “We need to have the game start at that lower level.”

The growth of the women’s game is something to smile about, according to Gangla. He said the team, Lionesses, stands a good chance of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup next year in New Zealand. Qualification to the World Cup guarantees the Lionesses a high-performance training camp sponsored by World Rugby.

“The girls are looking very good and with the coaching and talent we have, they can make history and be one of our first team to qualify for a world event,” Gangla said.

Kenya face Uganda, Madagascar and powerhouse South Africa in August.

Gangla said they are also encouraged by the number of girls who have shown interest in the game lately. “The more girls we see playing in the country, the better it is for our national teams as it provides depth,” he said. 

Gangla said there are plans to introduce the sport at primary school level, adding: “We need to have the game start at that lower level.”

Other plans include the construction of a rugby stadium and increased training and education for referees and coaches to match the increasing number of players and tournaments.