What you need to know:
- Chisanga’s best season with Homeboyz was in 2016 when they won the National Sevens Series with victory at Kabeberi Sevens.
- “We were a pretty good sevens team but we just couldn’t win. We had the personnel to do it but it didn’t happen,” says Chisanga.
- “Then things changed. That silverware, the first major with the team, stands out more than anything else.”
“The Beast” – as rugby star Joshua Chisanga is fondly known by his admirers - had to make some of the hardest choices when God delivered what he had hoped and prayed for since his days in primary school.
While at Hana Mixed School, Kampala, Chisanga dreamt of working in the entertainment industry, either as a musician, sound engineer, producer or as a professional sportsman.
After developing interest in rugby following a visit by famed Kenyan teams to Uganda for tournaments like the Hima Sevens, Chisanga saw an opportunity to strike two birds with one stone at Homeboyz Entertainment that had a music school and had also started a rugby club in 2009.
Upon returning home after completing his high school education in Uganda in 2010, Chisanga was certain about what he wanted… To play for Homeboyz Rugby Football Club because of what he wanted to achieve in life.
While in high school, he was coached by people who were affiliated to Mwamba Rugby Club, like Malone Ondiege and Scot Oluoch.
“If I was to play for another team, it would have been Mwamba, but I thank God I knew what I wanted for myself… play for Homeboyz, because I believe there was an opportunity for me,” explains Chisanga, adding he wanted to play for them rugby and in return they introduce him to music industry.
Chisanga was a jack of all trades playing volleyball, handball, athletics and basketball right from primary school at Kakuyuni in Machakos to Hana Mixed School as he eyed the right opportunity to go big in one of these disciplines.
“However, my friend Ondiege told me to stop wasting my enormous energy in those other sports and utilise it in rugby,” says Chisanga.
Ondiege had succeeded in luring him to rugby.
Chisanga would go on to captain Hana in second year after Ondiege returned to Kenya, this happening at a time good players like Philip Wokorach, who would go on to play for Kenya’s Kabras Sugar, joined the school.
“By the time I was leaving Uganda to return to Kenya, we were at the top high school rugby side,” says Chisanga.
As soon as he returned home, he went looking for where Homeboyz trained and he was directed to the University of Nairobi.
“I went to the varsity ground one day and found a team training and I changed to join them without asking what team it was.
“They asked if I knew rugby and I told them, yes. The mid-week training went well and I was named in the side that was to play at Mwamba Cup on Saturday of that week,” says Chisanga, adding that after a prayer to end the session, the players chanted “Eschumaaaaa!”
That is when Chisanga realised that the team wasn’t homeboyz but the varsity’s side Mean Machine.
“I found myself playing for Machine at the wing and centre, coming in as a substitute in the Mwamba Cup game against Strathmore Leos,” says Chisanga, who was asked about his age.
He had turned 18 then.
Chisanga was advised to go to the RFUEA ground where the national Under-19 team trials were being conducted by Paul Murunga and Mitch Ocholla.
It’s after Chisanga played for Machine at Great Rift 10s in April 2011 that Murunga told him to come and continue training with the Under-19 team.
Chisanga got selected as flanker for the CAR Cup tournament where they won all three matches to get promoted to tier one.
“I spoke to Murunga, who asked me if I really wanted to join Machine. It’s when I told him my story on how I got myself at Machine without knowing as I searched for Homeboyz,” says Chisanga, who didn’t hesitate to make the move to Homeboyz where he got enrolled as audio and sound engineering student.
At the time, the team had just gained promotion to Kenya Cup.
Fast forward, having graduated from Homeboyz Music School, Chisanga had started brushing shoulders with some of the best local artistes.
In fact, he was in line for major tracks with reggae artist Swabri Mohammed aka Red and Jackson Ngechu Makini aka CMB Prezzo, another famous Kenyan singer and actor.
It was a matter of time that the youngster would be a star, riding on cloud nine with top celebrities.
“The Beast” was exactly where he wanted: a qualified sound engineer and top choice as at Homeboyz and national 15s team, Kenya Simbas.
He was already causing ripples with Kenya Simbas and was fast becoming a sensation with rugby fans with his trademark smashing tackles and powerful burst either at the wing or middle just like his role model, the late New Zealand All Blacks legend, Jonah Lomu.
In fact, he was one of the focal point for then Kenya Simbas coach Jerome Paarwater which saw him making his debut with Kenya Simbas against Uganda at the 2013 Elgon Cup where the Simbas lost 17-16 in the first leg at Kasarani before going on to win in the second leg in Kampala 19-13 to reclaim the trophy from the Cranes.
Chisanga went on to play for Kenya in the Africa Cup the same year in Madagascar, beating Zimbabwe 29-17 in the final to capture the trophy for the second time.
“It was simply a dream start for a rookie on my first season…it was simply a dope season for me,” says Chisanga.
After becoming Africa champion, Chisanga would make the team that would tour South Africa where Kenya was invited for the 2014 Vodacom Cup for the first time.
The Simbas were to use the event, that ran from March to May, as a build up for the 2014 Africa Cup that doubled up for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifier.
Under Paarwater, Kenya won one match against Border Bulldogs but lost six other matches, failing to qualify for the knockout stages.
However, Chisanga had done enough to attract scouts from English Premiership side Newcastle Falcons…. but there was a problem.
It was a requirement that any player hoping to move to the top English league must have over 10 international caps.
Chisanga had only nine caps and needed one more to be eligible to move to England.
After the Vodacom Cup, Chisanga proceeded to Madagascar for the 2015 World Cup qualifier where Kenya missed by a bonus point to qualify for the world rugby’s biggest competition.
Chisanga would tear his meniscus and was out for 12 weeks after undergoing surgery at Kijabe Hospital but it didn't take long before he was back in shape.
By the time the 2015 season was over, he already had 14 caps hence a move to one of the best rugby leagues in the world beckoned.
Well, Chisanga had to make a choice: Either to go to England and potentially be a professional rugby player, joining a handful of Kenyan players who have plied the trade in Europe, or stay home and break into the music industry.
“I was right at the gate and on the cusp of a major breakthrough in the music industry and rugby but I thought about the future.
“I told myself that I will be back and still pursue my music interest even when I am 50 years old. Another chance would have come in music but not rugby,” says Chisanga, who would settle on rugby and a move to England.
Chisanga landed at Newcastle in March 2016, three months to the end of the 2015/2016 season. His new side was battling relegation.
“I stayed for two weeks but would score a double on debut and was handed an 18-month contract. We barely avoided relegations,” says Chisanga, who had a good 2017 season that saw him move from backrow to prop.
His side finished fourth that season as Chisanga’s contract neared the end.
Newcastle failed to renew his contract with strict England’s visa requirements and Kenya’s ranking in the world by then making it difficult to secure a new side in England despite huge interests in him.
However, Newcastle's move ended up as an experienced Chisanga wouldn’t trade for anything else.
World Rugby Level One coaching
It made him the great player he is today, with 17 international caps.
“The skills I acquired from Newcastle changed my game beyond words. I had an idea of rugby when I went to England, but then I knew nothing since I had to unlearn everything that I thought I knew,” notes Chisanga.
“For sure I struggled fitting into the set up and the training intensity that was there.”
However, Chisanga is glad that they took time and were patient with him as he recalled a time when director of rugby, Dean Richards, told him that he can run through wolves but rugby was more than that.
“I had sessions where they told me you are not allowed to carry the ball and that I shouldn’t use my strength but just pass the ball, stay out of the way from tackles and let the ball go somewhere else,” recalled Chisanga, adding that the experience made him appreciate the process.
“They bettered my strength and what I was good at. They made sure that I came to a level that was acceptable.”
At Newcastle, Chisanga notes that there were specific gym sessions meant rugby, and not like in Kenya where players just go to lift weights.
“The sessions resonated well with former Kenya Sevens strength and condition coach Chris Brown, who conditioned players for rugby and they came out good.
The difference was day and night,” says Chisanga, who was encouraged to undertake World Rugby Level One coaching besides strength and conditioning courses.
“Our downfall as rugby players has always been strength and conditioning. I managed to handle my injuries twice owing to my own expertise in the field,” notes Chisanga, adding that when running his rugby sessions, he applies what he learnt at Newcastle, an experience that would also prove vital after he joined Polish side RC Orkan Sochaczew in April 2018.
“That is the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t think I would have been a complete player if Newcastle didn’t happen,” explains Chisanga.
After returning home, Chisanga would play for Simbas at the Four Nations Cup in Hong Kong in November 2017 where they lost their matches to Chile, Russia and Hong Kong.
Chisanga sprained his knee to stay away for weeks, which according to him, was a blessing in disguise because he was still nursing the England heartbreak.
After recovery, he would sign for RC Orkan Sochaczew for two seasons, in 2018 and 2019.
“The experience wasn’t like England but you can imagine the Kenya Cup with huge sponsorship. I got to apply the knowledge from England properly.
“The whole team management came to meet me at the airport,” says Chisanga, who took another Homeboyz lock Emmanuel Mavala along to join Polish another side Ekstraliga.
Having stayed with Homeboyz for a decade, Chisanga decided in November last year that it was about time he left for other new challenges hence his move to Kenya Harlequin.
“I will forever treasure my stay at Homeboyz since it’s a club that gave me my rugby foundation,” says Chisanga, who has partnered with Mavala to form a sports consultancy company, 48Red.
“We want to explore ways of making sportsmen from scratch. We want to take them from zero to an elite performing athlete.”
Chisanga’s best season with Homeboyz was in 2016 when they won the National Sevens Series with victory at Kabeberi Sevens.
“We were a pretty good sevens team but we just couldn’t win. We had the personnel to do it but it didn’t happen,” says Chisanga.
“Then things changed. That silverware, the first major with the team, stands out more than anything else.”