The Rai engine behind sweet fortunes of Kabras Sugar, Oilers clubs

Kabras Sugar

Kabras Sugar RFC captain Dan Sikuta (right) charges past Menengai Oilers defence on March 12, 2022 during the Kenya Cup Rugby League final match at the 'Bullring'.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Love of sports from the top brass of the company helps many young men live their dream as the two clubs become a big supplier of quality players to national team, Kenya Simbas
  • Juicy sponsorship from West Kenya Sugar and Menengai Oil Refinery, coupled with elaborate player development plan that includes scholarships to study at local universities sees the two club ruffle the established Kenyan rugby order with spectacular success on the pitch that now makes them the envy of many

In recent times, Kenya’s club rugby landscape has pretty much changed with the pendulum swinging in favour of two relatively new sides -- Kabras Sugar RFC and Menengai Oilers.

The pair have toppled some of the legendary rugby giants in the country with Kabras Sugar, for instance, having played in the Kenya Cup final four times in a row, making it one of the most formidable rugby clubs in Kenya today.

Most recently, the two clubs made history when they met in the Kenya Cup final in March, in a match that was hosted at the now famous Bull-Ring in Kakamega.

Kabras Sugar clinched the Kenya Cup by beating their arch-rivals Menengai Oilers 34-28 in the latest rugby “sibling rivalry.”

Kabras Sugar

Kabras Sugar captain Dan Sikuta hoists the trophy after winning the Kenya Cup final match against Menengai Oilers at the 'Bullring' on March 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

“Sibling rivalry” because, interestingly, Kabras Sugar is sponsored by West Kenya Sugar Company while Menengai Oilers is sponsored by Menengai Oil Refinery Limited, both companies owned by the same family.

Tejveer Singh Rai is the Managing Director of West Kenya Sugar while his brother Onkar Singh Rai is the Managing Director of Menengai Oil Refinery Limited.

The two companies operate under the Rai Group of Companies whose chairman is renowned industrialist Jaswant Singh “Jassy” Rai.

An ardent supporter of sport, particularly rugby and motorsports, Rai Senior is the man behind the success of the two rugby clubs through sponsorship accorded to them by his flagship companies.

Jessy Rai

Rai Group of Companies Chairman Jaswant Sing "Jassy" Rai (left) with the then WRC Promoter Managing Director Olivier Ciesla on the sidelines of the 2019 Safari Rally that was run as a World Rally Championship candidate event. Rai has interests in motorpsorts and rugby.

Photo credit: Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

He follows closely the performance of the two clubs and knows many of the players by name.

Supporting young talents is one of his greatest passions.

"I love sports. I get motivated when I see young Kenyans access the opportunity to hone and actualise their talents at both local and international levels courtesy of Kabras Sugar RFC and Menengai Oilers,” says Rai.

“The clubs, through their officials, have well-structured processes of identifying talent across the country and bring them to their fold to explore their talents,” he explains.

Sponsoring an elite rugby team is not an easy task.

Kabras Sugar

Kabras Sugar fans arrive for the Kenya Cup Rugby League final match between Kabras Sugar and Menengai Oilers at the 'Bullring' on March 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Unbeknown to many, the sweat, toil, and financial resources inputted to realise the ultimate thrill, appeal and success are colossal.

However, for Rai Senior, also sponsoring two top-notch rugby clubs that enjoy massive following in the country, is “the best thing” he ever did.

“We do not just ask players to play rugby, but we remind and lay emphasis to them that education is equally important, and that is why we have offered scholarships to some players to enable them pursue courses of their choice in higher learning institutions,” the chairman of Rai Group of Companies notes.

Kabras Sugar coach Jerome Muller issues instructions

Kabras Sugar coach Jerome Muller issues instructions during their training session for Kenya Cup final against Menengai Oilers at Lions Primary School, "The Bulls Ring" in Kakamega on March 10, 2022.


Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

At Menengai Oilers, at least four players are under scholarship, including Brian Ndirangu (Bachelor of Commerce, Laikipia University), Kelvin Mukoyani (Bachelor of Supply Chain, JKUAT), Kevin Mburu (Bachelor of Maths and Physics Egerton University), and Derrick Ludenyo (Bachelor in Law at the Kabarak University).

At Kabras Sugar, there are more than 25 players under scholarships pursuing different courses in different colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, with three months remaining to the start of 2022/2023 Kenya Cup season, Kabras Sugar RFC and Menengai Oilers have intensified their pre-season trainings.

Kabras Sugar

Kabras Sugar fans arrive for the Kenya Cup Rugby League final match between Kabras Sugar and Menengai Oilers at the 'Bullring' on March 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Kabras Sugar and Oilers’ dominance of the local rugby space has seen them act as a major feeder into the “Simbas”, Kenya’s national 15s rugby team.

While Kabras Sugar RFC provided 11 players for Kenya’s team to last month’s Rugby World Cup Qualifiers held at Aix-en-Provence in France, Menengai Oilers gave two.

Sadly, Kenya lost 36-0 to Namibia in the final after seeing off Uganda in the quarter-finals and Algeria in the semi-finals.

Kabras’ internationals who featured at Aix-en-Provence include Ephraim Oduor, Eugene Sifuna, Teddy Akala, Joseph Odero, Brian Juma and George Nyambua, (vice-captain).

Others are Dan Sikuta (captain), Fijian-turned-Kenyan Jone Kubu, Brian Tanga, Bryson Adaka and Derrick Ashiundu.

Kabras Rugby fly half Jones Kubu polishes his kicking skills

Kabras Sugar fly half Jones Kubu polishes his kicking skills during their training session for Kenya Cup final against Menengai Oilers at Lions Primary School, "The Bulls Ring" in Kakamega on March 10, 2022.


Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

At the Currie Cup First Division tournament held in South Africa, Kabras contributed 12 players in the national team whist Menengai Oilers had nine, namely John Okoth, Crispine Shitindo, Clinton Odhiambo, Beldad Ogeta, Timothy Omela, Edward Mwaura, Geoffrey Ominde, Brian Ndirangu and Coleman Were.

Kabras RFC Chairman Edwin Esilaba and his Menengai Oilers counterpart Simpson Osiemo maintain that players featuring in international tournaments is not only good for their respective clubs, but to the players’ personal growth.

“Players come back more experienced after competing at the highest levels, and it is good especially when they mentor the young players,” explains Osiemo.

“Most of the players want to play for the national team in international tournaments, and that is why we always challenge those that did not get the call-ups, to work hard so as to increase their chances in the future,” he adds.

Jaswant Sing Rai

Rai Group of Companies Chairman Jaswant Sing "Jassy" Rai presents a Safari Rally cap to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on the sidelines of the 2019 Safari Rally. Rai has interests in motorpsorts and rugby.

Photo credit: Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

Oilers emerged the overall winners of the recently concluded national sevens circuit with 113 points ahead of serial winner KCB (107 points).

Strathmore Leos finished third with 100 points while Kabras Sugar scooped position six with 68 points.

Kabras and Oilers have embraced the culture of developing capacity and subsequently giving players an opportunity to exploit prospects in their respective clubs.

Esilaba lauds their sponsors for remaining steadfast, thoughtful and intentional in providing unwavering support to their clubs even as Kenya sport continues to struggle with dwindling sponsorship.

“We are keen on retaining the trophy in the next season, that is one of the ways we can appreciate the support we are getting from our sponsor, and our players know it well,” say Esilaba.

Kabras Sugar RFC conveyor belt supplies top class players to Kenya Simbas:

Kabras Sugar RFC fed Kenya’s national team “Simbas” with 11 players for the World Cup Africa Qualifiers for Africa;

On average, 10 Kabras sugar players played against Uganda, Algeria and Namibia;

Menengai Oilers contributed two players to the “Simba” for the World Cup Qualifiers;

Oilers won the national sevens circuit with 113 points ahead of KCB that had 107 points;

Kabras Sugar and Oilers have intensified their pre-season training ahead of the new season scheduled to start in October.

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