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Blood trail in rugby roller-coaster

It was yet another devastating year for the Kenya rugby fraternity as the deaths of five active and two former players overshadowed major events and achievements prompting a prayer day hosted by KRU at the Nairobi Chapel. Three players murdered in cold blood brought the nation to a moment of mourning in disbelief. Former Homeboyz forward Andrew Wekesa was murdered after a brawl at a recreational joint in January.

KCB centre James Kilonzo was then shot dead outside a cash service stall in Narobi’s Kasarani in July before Mike Ouma of USIU-Africa was found dead in his apartment in August.

Rugby deaths

Kenyan international Mike Okombe would then be stubbed to death in early November and just hours after his death, former Homeboyz skipper Peter Wekesa, elder brother of the late Andrew passed on following a tragic accident in Mombasa. Former Kenya Harlequins forward George Gachui and Mumias’ Thomas Aseka also passed on to make it six losses in a year.

Encouraging performance

However, it was encouraging that the national women’s team, under head coach Kevin Wambua, put forth a stellar performance this year, reaching a first-ever cup quarter-final during the HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series qualifiers in Hong Kong.

Lionesses also finished as runners-up in the Africa Sevens women’s cup, falling 12-17 to the defending champions South Africa at death. Lionesses, however, pocketed a lucrative Commonwealth Games 2018 ticket alongside South Africa and will be representing the country in the top tier event in Gold Coast, Australia.

Paarwater sacked

After five years of service as the head coach for the Kenya 15s rugby team, it was unbearable for senior Simbas players to part ways with Jerome Paarwater after a dissatisfied KRU ended the tactician’s reign. Kenya Simbas’ performance this season was marred by a couple of unseen losses which forced KRU’s hand.

Mixed fortunes for Simbas

Simbas kicked off the year with a 29-30 loss to Germany in May in an international Test match. The match was aimed at propelling Kenya close to the top 20 in the World Rugby rankings but the target was not achieved as Kenya currently lie at position 30. Kenya also retained the Elgon Cup title courtesy of a 56-51 aggregate score.

The win was made possible by round one’s 23-18 win in Kampala on June 10. The return round shockingly had Simbas held to a 33-33 stalemate by the Cranes in Nairobi, making it the second disappointing match at home.

The return match against Uganda also acted as Kenya’s Africa Gold Cup rugby tournament’s opener. Simbas registered first home win in July after clawing visiting Tunisia 100-10. Simbas, however, met Senegal for the first time in a top tier 15s event, bullying the Senegalese with a 45-24 win at the RFUE grounds in July to pile points on the logs.

Kenya broke down Zimbabwe’s engine away in Harare, winning the clash 41-22 to set up a tough match against Namibia the following weekend. Simbas were, however, treated to little respect once again, beaten 45-7 by the Welwitchias in Windhoek to finish second again. Back home for the Simbas, visiting Hong Kong played two test matches against Paarwater’s charges, sharing spoils of the first encounter, which ended 19-19.

Kenya had fielded largely the second side in that match and the return of the main hunters in the second round was thought to be the right move but things fell apart when Hong Kong handed Simbas a 43-34 defeat in August at the same venue.

Poor season for Shujaa

Sevens rugby team heads into the new season sitting 11th in the IRB World Series log. Kenya has managed to collect 13 points from the opening two legs in Dubai and Cape Town sevens. The start seemed to be right on track, making main cup quarters cut in Dubai to finish seventh but the opener tournament handed Innocent Simiyu a few injuries which saw Dennis Ombachi get sidelined.

Shujaa played both legs in the absence of their skipper Andrew Amonde who sustained a minor injury during Sri Lanka sevens and will be returning to the team during the month of January. -ALEX NJUE

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