The rise of Menengai Oilers

Oilers ruffling feathers in Kenya's top flight rugby

Oilers reached the 2019 Impala floodlight final where they gave KCB a huge scare, losing 21-13.

In Summary

•In 2017, the Oliers sent shockwaves on the circuit reaching the Christie Sevens final, losing to Impala.

• In the 2019-2020 season Oilers finished sixth and made it to the playoffs for the first  time ever.

Oilers’ Harold Anduvate challenges Leos’ Elkeans Musonye. /ENOS TECHE
Oilers’ Harold Anduvate challenges Leos’ Elkeans Musonye. /ENOS TECHE

Two years into top-flight rugby, Menengai Oilers are creating ripples on the scene.

The outfit from Nakuru have grown in leaps and bounds since making their debut in the national sevens circuit in 2016 where they reached the bowl category.

In 2017 the Oliers sent shockwaves on the circuit  after reaching the  Christie Sevens final, losing to Impala. They also reached three main Cup semifinals that season.

In the same year they gained promotion from the Championship to the Kenya Cup,  finishing  a credible eighth  at the end of the 2018-2019 season where many had written them off.

The following season, they went a notch higher to rank sixth, reaching their first ever season-ending playoff stage.

Unfortunately, their quest was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic which saw the Kenya Rugby Union cancel the season and later settle on a suspension following a protracted battle between the governing body and the clubs.

Last year, Oilers reached the Impala floodlight final where they gave KCB a  huge scare despite losing 21-13.

Their rise did not escape KCB assistant coach Dennis Mwanja, saying: "This is one team which will  give problems to everyone in the future. They are a well-coached side and have no fear. This has been one of our toughest finals."

But where did the journey begin for the team which is currently top dog in Nakuru even surpassing heavyweights Nakuru RFC? 

Speaking recently founder Kirori Mindo detailed  their origin and the tough journey to the top.

He traces the journey to 2006 when, alongside the late Ronald Lovega, restarted the Mini Rugby program in Nakuru having witnessed the success of the program run by the then French expatriate Andy Moi and Gregory Sang, the then Nakuru High School rugby coach.

That program had earlier produced the likes of Pascal Wetukha, Ken Kanyi, Tito Kimani and Zack Aura from Mama Ngina Primary, Edwin Shimenga from Kenyatta Primary, while Joe Mbakaya, Ernest Waweru, Roy Lovega, Andrew Onyuna, Steve Adongo, Thomas Odhiambo and Zack Aura among others were students at St Joseph’s Primary.

The  2006 mini-rugby program was slow to start but gained traction with the then KRFU Development Officer – the late Eric Situma and KRFU’s General Manager Auka Gacheo providing support.

Kirori saw it wise to partner with schools in the region with the help of Situma.

“I suggested that this would only grow if we partnered with schools, who would  supply a big number of the children” noted Mindo

In 2007, Situma saw it wise to partner with Festus Oloo, a passionate Top Fry Nakuru rugby player, who had graduated from Muranga Teachers Training College and was teaching at a primary school under the auspices of Filadelfia Church run by Pastor Andrew Ford of New Life International. Oloo is the current head coach at Top Fry Nakuru RFC. It was a perfect convergence for the growth of rugby.

Mindo noted that the  number of rugby-playing children blossomed and the program grew in leaps and bounds.

"Menengai Oil Refineries Ltd came in to support the program by providing school fees to over 300 primary school kids and hundreds of secondary school students in the program,” he added.

“After a lot of work by Oloo and team, the Nakuru boys were unbeatable in almost all the U-9, U-12, U-14 and U-16 categories. Many of these boys joined Nakuru-based secondary schools and suddenly, there was an influx of rugby playing boys with good foundation in Menengai, Nakuru Day, LangaLanga, Afraha, Spotlight, Nakuru Central, Moi Secondary and almost every other Nakuru school.

Mindo said the two (mini-rugby and secondary schools’ competitions) fed Nakuru RFC with a huge number of players.

 Menengai Oil Refineries made the decision to sponsor the team and Nakuru won their first Kenya Cup in 2013. The popularity of the game and team grew in leaps and bounds within Nakuru.

Numerous players were looking to play or support the game. The numbers were so high that in 2014 and 2015, they had a third squad participating in the Nationwide League and still a huge number of players were left out of this squad.

Mindo said with the huge numbers, he thought it wise to form another team to cater for the growing demands of the game and that's how Menengai Oliers was born in April 2016. 

The birth of the team was a culmination of several meetings, ideas and synergies.  He recounts: “One of the earliest proponents of expanding the rugby space was Sylvester Musembi, a former team manager and honorary secretary at Nakuru."

"Simpson Osiemo (Menengai Oilers RFC chairman) was also very concerned with giving opportunities to as many Nakuru players and officials.  Osiemo needed a clear plan which would ensure that the expansion was not a zero-sum-game and that opportunities for one would ensure the other thrives as well. In addition, our sponsor Menengai Oil Refineries were always interested in avenues to widen its CSR contribution to the Nakuru community."

Mindo attributed the success to four factors; meticulous planning, hard work, right team and sponsor support.

“We plan, unplan and re-plan. The team spends a lot of time brainstorming ideas and plans to evaluate the best application. We are also very open and listen to all ideas. We believe in the mantra – aim 10 times, shoot once,” noted Mindo

He has also credited coach Gibson Weru, a former  Kenya Sevens international,  ranking him the best coach in the country.

"We have been lucky to have the best coach in the country. His intelligence, dedication, innovativeness and charisma has made the team what it is today. His abilities are unbounded."

Kirori said the coaching set up in the club is among the best with the brains and trust of highly motivated coaches.

These include Richmond Baraza (forwards and scrum coach) who spent a year with Auckland Blues.

Ben Kamau is an excellent backs and kicking coach, Sam Njogu is a top, superlative and dedicated strength and conditioning coach. His ability to give personalised attention has turned the boys into well-conditioned machines. Kenny Njagi, who is also the Menengai High School coach, has a very good analytical eye with attention to detail.

The Oliers have also brought in South African Bafana Nhleko, current Junior Springboks assistant coach, who feeds the club with invaluable rugby knowledge to suit their technical and tactical abilities.

Mindo observed that the input by their sponsors has also ensured that all plans are executed without a hitch.

"Menengai Oil Refineries Limited has given us immeasurable support. Through infrastructure support – pitch, gym and clubhouse, kitting, medical insurance," he said.

"The boys are lucky to get scholarships to see them through university or college. Our players receive support at different levels – diploma, degree and Masters scholarships. They are also remunerated with allowances for training and matches, winning bonuses and transport. Further, our upcountry boys are offered accommodation and meals. Menengai has also been kind enough to provide monthly goody-bags with assorted cooking oil, sugar, soaps, detergents and skin care products."

"Our players also get support from our fans and generals support group called the O’Fam that reaches out with various welfare programs like boots program, family misfortune program as well as jobs and internships.”

Mindo  said the future is bright for the club.

"We see ourselves as regular Kenya Cup and national 7s circuit champions and practically dominate every rugby competition on offer. We expect our boys to feature in the Kenya U20, Kenya Sevens (Shujaa) and Kenya Simbas (Morans) in the near future, if not today. We are the current defending Great Rift champions and that shows we have the ability to be at the top," added Mindo.

Skipper Harold Anduvate, who was called up to the Shujaa training squad in 2018  said it's been a privilege and a blessing captaining the side.

“For any team, the ups and down are inevitable. Sometimes they might come with painful lessons  but sooner or later we will have to pick the lessons and use them accordingly to become better;  be it mentally, physically or skillswise. The key thing is to continue soldiering on knowing that down the road, you will always have something to smile about," added Anduvate.

The Kenya Sevens player noted he wanted the team to produce quality players capable of competing at any professional level, and win.

Anduvate was delighted to join Shujaa.

"Definitely, I was euphoric. Having been selected to join the side was a dream come true and it makes me believe that when you put your heart and effort  towards achieving something, it's possible," he observed.

Peter Wanjala, who has been with the team since inception said: “It's been a journey full of ups and downs but ultimately being promoted to the Kenya Cup and seeing the team growing is quite fulfilling  and we thank God."

“The key to attaining this has been passion, discipline and teamwork  which are the core values of the club and of course to the sponsors whom we are greatly indebted to."

Weru expressed confidence the club will get better in the years to come.

“The first years in the Kenya Cup were tough but now the boys have adapted and adjusted. We can only get better. I am not satisfied with where we are. We want to the best in the country and with the support of our sponsors and fans it can happen very soon," said Weru.