What you need to know:
- My worst moment was in 2019 when I broke my wrist. It was a big setback in my rugby career.
- Rugby pays my bills. It has also taught me the importance of being hard-working in everything I do.
Born on March 19, 1994 in Busia County, Ann Goretti Ochieng’, who is a fly-half, made her debut for both the national 15s and Sevens teams in 2019 in South Africa and Emirates Dubai Invitational Sevens, respectively.
She was part of the Lionesses team which finished fourth out of 12 at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Santiago, Chile in August 2022.
In 2023, Ann won the top points’ scorer award with her club Impala at the Kenya Rugby Union Sevens Circuit and at the Safari Sevens with the eventual runners-up Kenya Lionesses.
She also inspired Kenya past Colombia at the World Rugby Women’s 15-a-side third-tier tournament (WXV3) in Dubai, bagging the Player of the Match award.
She speaks to My Network about her passion for the game.
You have become the mainstay of the Kenya Lionesses team. How did your rugby journey start?
I started playing rugby in 2018 when I was 24 years old at Impala Saracens Rugby Club. I was introduced to it by a friend, Ann Njeri, who is a rugby player at the club.
It was after my football training. I was just chilling at home when she came and said, ‘I’m heading for rugby training, why don’t you come and watch what we do? You look like someone who can play this game’.
I decided to take on the challenge, I watched them from the stands as they trained. I thought to myself, “I can play this game”. Equipped with my football skills, I decided to try the game the next day after meeting Impala Women rugby coach Mary Atieno in the washroom.
I told her I would love to try rugby and her response was positive. She told me, “Don't run away”. Passion, hard work and determination has kept me moving to date.
Talking about football, how did you get into that?
Rugby wasn’t my first sport. Football was my food and music from my days at Riruta Satellite Primary School and Wiyeta Girls Secondary School where I played as a centre forward and right winger.
I even played football for Kibera Girls Soccer Club in the Football Kenya Federation Women Premier League.
However, I dropped football because I found rugby to be an interesting game, full of physicality and opportunities career-wise.
It was also easier to join the national team via rugby than football. This is because very few people play women's rugby in the country compared to football.
Despite leaving Kibera Girls Soccer for rugby, they were excited for me since my performance in rugby was good. They also wished me well. The passion for rugby is what drives me.
Is there a player you look up to in the game?
My role model is the South African World Cup winner Handre Pollard. I have never met him, but have gained a lot of kicking skills from watching him play.
You have won several accolades, including the Player of the Match award against Colombia in WXV3 in October 2023. What does it take to achieve this?
I would say it takes a lot of hard work, commitment, patience and discipline.
What are your best and worst moments in rugby and why?
My best moment is definitely being voted the Player of the Match against Colombia in Dubai this year. I found it so exciting. I deserved it. I did the first drop-goal kick of the entire WXV.
My worst moment was in 2019 when I broke my wrist. It was a big setback in my rugby career because the injury kept me out of the game for one year and six months. All I did during that period was rest and do therapy.
It wasn't easy to keep away from the game because it was in my blood... we all learn, and if it's something you love doing, you won't give up on it.
Despite my injury, I still did light training, which helped me to get fully healed and back into the game like I never left.
How has rugby helped change your life?
Rugby pays my bills. It has also taught me the importance of being hard-working in everything I do. Rugby has also helped me to manage my time well and kept me disciplined.
Through rugby, I’m also able to keep fit, which has contributed to my general well-being.
Is this your dream career? What specific targets have you set for yourself in this sport?
Yes, it is my dream career and I love it. My targets are to qualify for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens someday.
I also want to play professional rugby. I am working hard to achieve these targets, which are also my big dreams in this sport.
Rugby is all about love, passion, commitment, discipline, name them. For me, rugby is a fair war game. Let's fight till we can't no more with love.
You have several nicknames…
Some fans call me Pollard, while others know me as Koki. Jane Mwai, a rugby fan, gave me the name Pollard after the South African star Handre Pollard because of my kicking skills.
My grandma nicknamed Koki. In Luo, Koki means fingernail. I used to bite my nails way back in primary school. I like both nicknames.
Is there anything else you do apart from playing rugby?
I run a business called Shoe Box. I manage to juggle rugby and business by planning well and balancing everything.