• However, a change of guard in administration, at both schools in the last decade and a half has seen standards decline, not only in rugby but in sports across the board.
• On Tuesday and Thursdays, we had two to three hours allocated for games and it helped us to train until darkness and that sharpened us ahead of various competitions — Rombo.
What could have happened to Nairobi secondary school giants of yesteryears?
Nairobi and Lenana schools dominated schools rugby in the 1970s, '80s and to an extent the '90s but they are currently somewhat a pale shadow of their former self.
However, a change of guard in administration at both schools in the last decade and a half has seen standards decline, not only in rugby but in sports across the board.
Lenana School bagged the Prescott Cup in 1982, 1993, 2000 and 2001. They were the first school to win the national schools crown in 1990 and won it again in 1994 and 1999.
Nairobi School were finalists of the Prescott Cup twice in the eighties and as well won RFUEA Sevens in 1986, 1989 and 1993 and added the national title in 1996. They went on to win the Prescott Cup crown in 2002 and 2007.
Rombo, who was a dominant figure in the Patch Machine side from 1983 -86, winning several titles and accolades, said the system they had back then is currently broken down.
"We had Inter-House rugby competitions back in our days where every house had to produce three teams. That translated to a very stiff local competition which then led to a very competitive school team,” said Rombo.
The former Kenyan international said the structure of Senior Colts (Form Three and Four players) and Junior Colts (Form One and Two) was also key in ensuring continuity at the top level for both schools.
"The 'Colt System' was good. It was a pathway to playing for the school team all the way from Form One 1 to six,” noted Rombo. He added that time and resources were allocated to sports and rugby in particular.
"On Tuesday and Thursdays, we had two to three hours allocated for games and it helped us to train until darkness and that sharpened us ahead of various competitions," said Rombo.
He regretted that Form Four students are now locked out of sports with just 30 minutes to one hour allocated for games.
"I blame the current school administrators for the decline. Even during the few times, we visited the school as old boys, they were always adamant. It's about academics and that sport is not important," noted Rombo
He said the decline at Lenana and Nairobi School has seen the rise of new giants in the likes of Kakamega High, St Peters Mumias, St Marys Yala, Laiser Hill and Upper Hill.
“These schools are just doing what we used to do. They have dedicated teachers who are coaching the players and putting long hours into training,” he added.
Rombo said both schools are also falling off in their contribution to the Kenya Simbas and Shujaa with Innocent Simiyu (Nairobi) and Sidney Ashioya (Lenana) are the last to have donned Shujaa colours about five years ago.
He added that it is also difficult to find former students of the two schools playing at top club level these days, unlike about two decades ago.
"If you go around clubs, you will be shocked not to find players from the two schools in teams like Mwamba, Impala, Quins and Nondies and this just tells how the landscape has changed,” said Rombo.
Former international Ken Thimba, who played for both schools and captained Lenana in his final year (1988), said education should produce well-rounded individuals.
"It's quite sad to see what's happening at these two schools. They are producing gifted students in academics but very little in other areas," he said, adding that rivalry between the two sides was the highlight of the schools' rugby calendar.
“It brought both schools to a standstill whenever we played, be it in Sevens or 15s and most of the players went on to play for national teams. This does not happen anymore,” he added.
Thimba said the introduction of the 8-4-4 system in the mid-80' focused on academic excellence at the expense of producing well-rounded students.
"The key performance indicators for current principals is to ensure their students pass examinations while rugby and sports, in general, is not a priority,” said Thimba. He noted it makes no sense coaching either of the two schools if there is no support from the administration.
"Why would someone get stuck in traffic on either Ngong Road or Waiyaki Way, only to go and train for one hour? It doesn't make sense," he said.
Donald 'CD' Onyango, who was part of the great Lenana side that bagged the 1993 Prescott Cup amongst many other titles, hailed the emergence of schools like Upper Hill and the upcountry schools, who were physically gifted back then but lacked organisation and training.
"It seems like there has been a levelling of the playing field in the sense that more schools seem to have access to good coaching and have support from school administrations. That, coupled with their physicality, makes them formidable,” he noted.
Onyango, who is now based in the United States, said the school have to go back to what made them tick.
“I think a re-emphasis on rebuilding the culture and habits of past teams not only through the old boys but also through school administrations needs to happen. It's sad to see an emphasis on academics to the detriment of having well-rounded students," he observed.
Onyango recounts his formative years at Lenana with pride.
"When we were in Form One (1990), we went for a tournament at Rift Valley Academy and we mopped the floor with every team and won the tournament. This gave us confidence in subsequent years,” quipped Onyango.
Onyango said he learnt the basics of the game while in Standard Six at Consolata School through Kioko Mwatiki, a Kenyatta University graduate and Damu Pevu member.
Eugene Ligale, one of the brightest school rugby talents and 1993 Lenana captain said, on the flip side, the decline of the two giants was good for the growth of the game.
"It's good for rugby to have schools like Upper Hill, Kakamega and Musingu among others since this has broadened the base of players and it has helped spread the sport nationally,” he observed.
Former Kenya Simbas assistant coach and player Edward Kinyany, who was part of the 1990 Nairobi School team, said solid traditions at both schools have been discarded.
However, Lenana principal William Kemei said the school has invested in sports notably rugby, hockey and basketball but noted that their biggest challenge is poaching by other schools.
“Our teams compete but once you get to the national level and you have a player at Lenana who is, say 16 years, competing against 19/20-year-olds, it’s very difficult and most times we may not win,” noted Kemei
Kemei cited the case of the 2018 East Africa Schools championship in Rwanda where Kenyan teams had to forfeit trophies and wins due to age-cheating.
“This is something that must be addressed,” noted Kemei.
Efforts to get a comment from Nairobi School principal Caspal Maina were unsuccessful.