What you need to know:
- Kenya Simba coach Odera reckons that the skill-set, versatility and guile of the much praised Kubu at fly half position is just what Kenya needed in their World Cup qualifier campaign
- The Fijian-born rugby player first came to Kenya in 2014 with Samurai International for the Safari Sevens and was the convinced to stay by Kabras Sugar Rugby thinking he would be in the country for a short stint only to, not only stay longer, but get citizenship and become a key figure in the national team set-up
Jone Kubu is simply a joy to watch when he steps up at the tee or when splitting apart some of the meanest defences.
When the kicking maestro unleashes the ball from the tee, it embarks on a projectile motion that ends up passing in between the sticks.
It’s no wonder that the five penalties that the Fijian-born Kubu nailed including two from 40m, and two conversions, drove their fanatical fans into frenzy at the Bullring, Kakamega on March 12.
It’s a feat that spurred Kabras Sugar Rugby Club to their second Kenya Cup victory, and their first since 2016, as they beat Menengai Oilers 34-28 in the memorable final.
To cap it all, besides being declared man-of-the-match, Kubu emerged the 2021/22 Kenya Cup season top try scorer, having crossed the line seven times.
Kabra Sugar had been to four successive Kenya Cup finals, coming up short until this year.
Things were different this time around with Kubu, who operates at fly half and fullback, stepping up to score 19 points in the nerve-racking final.
Kubu has been at the centre of Kabras’ rise, steering the club into its first ever Kenya Cup victory in 2016 before recapturing the title this season and maiden Enterprise Cup in 2019.
Kubu has laid bare his talent and skills since joining Kabras in 2015.
It’s the performance that finally landed him what he has been dreaming of over the last three years -- acquiring Kenyan citizenship to finally earn the Kenya Simbas call up in May last year.
“Getting Kenyan citizenship was stressful,” notes Kubu, who was planning to return to Fiji permanently at the end of the 2021 season after it proved impossible to play for Kenya.
Then things changed for the better.
Kenya Simbas head coach Paul Odera picked Kubu in his squad where he would feature prominently in the first round of the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifier held July 3-11 last year against Senegal and Zambia.
Kenya qualified for the next phase of the Africa Qualifiers that will be held in the French cities of Marseille and Aix-en-Provence from July 1 to 10.
Kubu has also been on the radar of the Kenya Sevens head coach Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu.
The Fijian could be up for selection for the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens due on September 9 to 11 in Cape Town, South Africa.
“I have been playing here for more than five years and I think it was the right time. It would have been a bit hard contesting for spots in the national 15s and sevens teams in Fiji because of the enormous talent there,” said Kubu.
The 27-year-old Kubu was eligible to play for Kenya after meeting the minimum requirement of three years of residing in the country and featuring for a Kenyan club.
When Odera picked him for the first time in May last year, the tactician knew he had found the missing link that perhaps had hindered the Simbas’ performance at the top level.
Having monitored Kubu for several years, Odera notes that the Fijian-born player is what the country has been missing for several years.
While likening Kubu to some of the legendary players Kenya has produced like Absalom “Bimbo” Mutere, Sammy Khakhame, Michael “Tank” Otieno, Dave Evans and Evans Vitisia, Otieno said Kubu has rare and unique rugby qualities that make him such a special player.
“The country had laboured to fill in their shoes some of these legends left but we now have an answer,” said Odera.
Odera marvelled at how Kubu could see the whole field and play his game accordingly.
“Before getting hold of the ball, Kubu is a player, who already has crafted two or three moves. That is an ability few players possess.”
Odera said it was rare to find a "triple-threat" player like Kubu, who can side-step, pass, kick and also tackle well.
“You can never tell what he is going to do next with the ball,” explained Odera.
Odera also describes Kubu as a typical Fijian. Players from that part of the world are known for their humbleness and spiritual nature both in and outside the field of play.
“His is the nicest person I have ever met in a long time,” said Odera.
South African Jerome Muller, who has coached Kabras Sugar for two years, described Kubu as a special talent.
“I don’t like praising or singling out players because we play as a team sport, but Kubu is that unique player and that is why he’s thriving in the setup at Kabras,” said Muller.
Muller noted that the Fijians are down to earth, humble people and that's why Kakamega and Kabras suits Kubu.
“He is vital to all our plans at Kabras. He will also contribute immensely to the goals of Kenya Simbas and Kenya Sevens,” said Muller.
Kubu is spoilt for choice on which version of the game he wants to concentrate on.
“It’s a tough choice. I am not quite sure where I will fit in well but I am ready to serve Kenya at any level of play,” said Kubu.
He admits that long adored Kenya Sevens speedster Collins Injera before coming to the country in 2014.
“I have only played four matches for Kenya Simba but the future looks good. My dream is to take the team to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France,” said Kubu. “It’s quite possible if the team is supported well and gets to play quality build up matches.”
However, Kubu reckons that he needs to work on his fitness level before joining Kenya Sevens team.
“I don’t want to go there and make a fool of myself considering the high standards set,” he said.
Kubu made his maiden trip to Africa in 2014 when he toured with Samurai International at the Safari Sevens. It’s a tour that marked the turning point for the Fijian.
Samurai finished third with a 31-26 extra time victory over Western Province as debutantes Welsh Warrior beat Argentina 24-17 to lift the Safari Sevens title.
“Kabras Sugar approached several Fijian players to feature for them in the Kenya Cup and that is how I decided to stay,” said Kubu, who was joined by compatriots Sava Racigu and Apenisa Natambua.
The Fijians featured prominently during the 2015/2015 season helping Kabras clinch their maiden title after beating Impala Saracens 19-5 in a rain-drenched final at Impala Sports Club.
At that time, Kubu didn’t habour any thoughts of changing citizenship. He was in Kenya to ply his professional trade before returning home.
“But days, weeks, months and years passed by and I continued to fall in love with Kakamega, which is now like my second home,” says Kubu. “It has a good environment and hospitable people.
“I told my parents about my move and they didn’t object as long as I was happy,” said Kubu. "I saw more opportunities in Kenya than in Fiji where virtually everyone plays rugby.
Kubu, who was born on April 18, 1994 at Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Naitasiri, Fiji to Seveci and Ili Sapeci Tavaga took up rugby at the tender age of six.
With rugby being the number one sport in Fiji, the second born in a family of five went on to represent Sawani Primary School in Provincial Under-9 to Under-13 Championships.
“I was born to play rugby. It’s in my genes and that is why I fell in love with the game easily,” Kubu says.
He featured for his Ratu Kadavulevu Secondary School where they reached two national finals in 2008 and 2009 in Under-14 and Under-15 while in Form Three and Four respectively.
While in Form Six at Lelean Memorial School in 2013, he was signed by Waimanu Rugby Club and featured for the Naitasiri Under-20 team in Skipper Cup Competition. Skipper Cup is the top most provincial championship in Fiji and features 12 teams.
As a first year Sports Science student at Fiji National University in 2014, Kubu toured Kenya with Samurai International for Safari Sevens.
The rest is history.
“I visit Fiji at the end of every season but haven’t been home since Covid-19 outbreak,” said Kubu.
He is still single but searching. He may settle for a local here in Kenya or a local in the South Pacific island, but rugby remains his true love.