What you need to know:
- Kenya hosts three successful international tournaments at Nyayo Stadium
- Bankers won eighth league title, national team beats Covid-19 blues to finish third in the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Despite rugby being among the contact sports that were cleared late for reopening in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kenya was still able to host three successful major continental championships this year.
International rugby returned to Kenya for the first time in two years when the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) concurrently hosted three Rugby Africa events at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi.
The Africa Under-20 Barthes Trophy, Rugby Africa Women’s Cup and the Rugby Africa Cup were held smoothly without a hitch.
National team Shujaa finished the 2021 World Rugby Sevens Series in position three with 34 points after claiming silver in Vancouver and bronze in Edmonton. Some teams skipped the Series which was shortened because of Covid-19 travel restrictions around the world. Twelve teams took part in the Series.
South Africa won the Series with 40 points and Great Britain were second, also on 34 points.
Coach Innocent Simiyu’s side bagged silver at Vancouver 7s after losing to South Africa 38-5 in the Cup final on September 19 and won bronze in Edmonton after beating Canada 33-14 in the play-off for the third and fourth place.
Shujaa played in the final for the first time since 2016 when they won the Singapore Sevens — their first victory in the World Sevens Series.
Kenya Sevens player Alvin “Buffa”Otieno’s star continued to shine brightly in the World Series where he scored 11 tries in both the Vancouvre and Edmonton legs. He was ranked the top try scorer for Kenya at the Series and fourth overall.
Muller du Plessis from South Africa topped with 13 tries and American Malaachi Esdale and Max McFarland from Great Britain were second with 12 tries each.
It was not a good outing though for Shujaa at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — their second appearance in the global sporting showpiece. Kenya finished in ninth place after beating Ireland 22-0 in the play-off. Kenya Sevens captain Andrew Amonde announced his retirement from international rugby after the Olympics.
On the local scene, four teams were scheduled to battle it out at the Barthes Trophy from June 24-July 11 at Nyayo Stadium, but the 2018 champions Namibia pulled out because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Defending champions Kenya’s Chipu, who had a new coach Curtis Olago, Senegal and Madagascar played in a round robin format to determine this year’s winner.
Kenya fired early shots by dismantling Senegal 50-3 before the West African side went down further to Madagascar 34-3 to set up an exciting title decider against Kenya.
Chipu retained the Barthes Trophy after taming Madagascar’s Junior Makis 21-20 in a pulsating final.
Kenya Simbas faced Senegal and Zambia in Pool “B” of the 2021 Rugby Africa Cup on July 3-11 at Nyayo Stadium. The event doubled up as the African continent’s pathway to the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.
It was a fierce battle of the Lions as Kenya’s Simbas faced Senegal’s Lions in the opening fixture. The Senegalese stunned the hosts 20-19 before drubbing Zambia’s Copper 20-5 to qualify for the quarter-final to be held next year.
There was everything to play for when Kenya and Zambia faced off in the last duel. The Simbas cruised to a 32-3 lead at halftime before winning 45-8 to also qualify for the quarter-final scheduled for next year. Kenya and Senegal together with other winners will face off in the quarter-final which will also be used as Africa’s qualifying round to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The qualifying round will be played in July next year in France where Kenya will face off with Uganda while Senegal will play Algeria.
In other quarter-final matches, African champion Namibia will be up against Burkina Faso while Zimbabwe will take on Cote d’Ivore.
The winners will join automatic qualifiers South Africa, who will be defending their title in 2023. The losing finalists will proceed to the last qualifying round in Repechage.
In the women’s game, the national team Lionesses came close to qualifying for the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup next round of Repechage on August 25. This raises hope that the women’s game is bound to go places.
Kenya’s Lionesses were favourites against Madagascar when they two teams locked horns in the 2021 Rugby Africa Women’s Cup by virtue of being highly ranked. The Lionesses had beaten Madagascar 35-5 in their last outing of the 2019 Rugby Africa Women’s Cup.
But the Indian Ocean Island side had other ideas as they tore apart the Lionesses 27-15 and 10-0 on July 3 and July 11, respectively. Not only did Madagascar register their maiden test wins, but they also climbed in the World Rugby ranking to position 27 while Kenya dropped one place to 25th place.
Hard-fighting Lionesses fell to a 16-15 home loss to Colombia at the Nyayo Stadium on August 25, a result that ended their 2022 Rugby World Cup qualification hopes. Colombia moved to the next phase of the World Cup qualifier.
The return of Safari Sevens after it failed to take place last year due to Covid-19 cannot go unnoticed as Kenya Sevens Shujaa reclaimed the title on October 31. It was the first time they won the diadem since 2016.
The tournament’s Most Valuable player “Buffa’ Otieno and Johnstone Olindi scored a try each as Shujaa beat Germany 12-5 to clinch the 2021 Safari Sevens title while holders Morans finished third after beating Red Wailers.
It was perfect revenge for Shujaa who had lost 14-12 to the Germans when they met in the group phase on the opening day of the competition. Olindi scored the winning try in the second half, supplementing Otieno’s first half converted try.
In Kenya Cup, KCB Rugby exhibited unrivaled resilience when they rallied from behind 20-0 to beat the 2016 champions, Kabras Rugby, 28-25 at Nandi Bears on September 4 for their eighth Cup glory.
In one of the most stunning comebacks in the tournament, KCB rallied from 20-0 down to level 25-25 at the death before Mukidza’s heroics.
However, it was a final where Kenya Rugby Union let the game down big time by failing to prioritise safety of players.
KCB winger Isaac Njoroge sustained a neck injury and teammate Rocky Anguko twisted his left leg but the two were not taken to hospital immediately because the ambulance on stand by lacked basic equipment.
The match was stopped for one hour and half hours.During a shortened regular season, KCB finished second after suffering only one defeat 30-23 to Kabras on August 7 in Nandi.
The Kakamega-based side Kabras finished the regular season unbeaten and on top of the standings only for Curtis Olago’s KCB to turn the tables in the final.