RFUEA ground that once hosted British Lions unfit for international fixtures

Lionel Ajiliti

Black Blad's Lionel Ajiliti tackles Austine Sikutwa of Menengai Oilers during their Kabeberi Sevens match at RFUEA grounds on May 21, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Sixty-seven years later, the ground has changed little. Here is where the two historic Currie Cup Division One matches pitting Kenya Simbas versus Leopards on June 4 and versus Eastern Province Elephants on June 11 will be held.
  • Excellent rugby fixtures that no true Kenyan rugby fan worth his salt will want to miss. Pity the disheveled, decrepit venue.

The dualling of Ngong Road from Kenya National Library Service to Dagoretti Corner gives a sleek, modern feel to the areas the road passes through.

The same would not be said of one of the best known features along this road: Rugby Football Union of East Africa ground.

Ngong Road is the only road that will take you to this iconic Kenyan rugby facility.

I tried accessing the ground through the main gate as I came in from Nairobi’s CBD, but only the back gate, facing Ligi Ndogo ground was open, forcing me to drive all the way to Kenya Science Campus-University of Nairobi before making a U-turn to return to the venue for the Kabeberi Sevens last Sunday.

If you are a first time visitor you may be forgiven for thinking that Ligi Ndogo is the rugby facility – you see the lush green artificial turf, but for the tall rugby goalposts.

In fact, once you turn in from Ngong Road you are immediately confronted with a huge earth field that resembles a Martian surface.

Alas, this is the designated car park, bellowing with dust and disharmony. At the end of the field is a huge prefab building lying nonchalantly on prime space.

Who owns this piece of land? I am yet to find out. What I know, is that should the owner decline to allow vehicles to park there, it would be a challenge to attend a function at the RFUEA ground.

Still on Ligi Ndogo end, the live bougainvillea RFUEA ground fence is lined with several huge Jacaranda and Cypress trees that must be decades old.

Their state and stature in a city increasingly dominated by concrete and steel, would touch the heart of conservationists. In the early afternoon the gigantic flora offers some respite from the baking sun.

The turnstile at the ground entrance has decidedly seen better days. You pass through half expecting the contraption to jam, trapping you in no man’s land.

Inside, the ground resembles a war zone.

Deep ruts run along the Ligi Ndogo side, with heaps of soil and pits littering the section. A champion long jumper would struggle to maneuver here.

There is a good spectator turnout on the day with the 12-year-old Safaricom/Rugby Patrons Society-built steel stand on the Ngong Road end handsomely filled.

But the structure is worse for wear. A careless spectator my leave cloth or, worse, skin, on the stand courtesy of several loose nails.

The main pavilion, the original structure at the ground, has wooden stands while on either of its sides are concrete terraces roughened by age and countless bums rubbing the surface in rugby fervour.

Personally, I had to stand up every few minutes to rest my gluteal muscles. Sitting on that aging, rocky surface for long periods is not a gentle experience on your rear I can assure you.

The general dust and dirt pervading the ground is another story altogether.

Woe unto you if you want to go for a short call. There are just two sets of toilets behind the VIP section. On this day, they were bursting from overuse.

I had some people complain there was no water in the lavatory and one had to scoop it from strategically positioned barrels.

For others, naturally, men only, walking to the live fence to “shower the nation” was the better option.

The useful parking space outside the Union offices on the KRU offices end is non-existent. The area is currently a messy construction site.

I am made to understand a two-storey steel and glass, funky bar and restaurant is being erected and will be a major hang-out joint for rugby buffs and the like.

When complete, it will be the single most impressive structure on the ground, I tell you.

This is not how Kenya’s rugby founding fathers envisaged the venue would turn out to be.

According to the book “Rugby Football in East Africa 1909-59” edited by M Campbell and E. J. Cohen, the idea of the union having its own ground and headquarters was first mooted in 1930. It became a reality two decades later.

In 1951, the Kenya Government granted the union a 10-acre plot adjoining Ngong Road.

To secure the ground, the rugby community first cleared the area - then a wild forest, before putting up a fence to keep away animals.

Rugby goalposts were then erected to let all and sundry know what the field was intended for.

Building actually started in 1954 and included the pavilion that now stands, changing rooms and showers, and a bar with room for expansion. The ground then had a capacity of 2,700.

RFUEA ground was officially opened in August, 1955 by J. A, E. Siggens, the manager of the British Isles team that was on its way home after touring South Africa.

Now wait for this. The British Lions versus East Africa was the first match on the ground and attracted a then record 6,000 spectators.

Sixty-seven years later, the ground has changed little. Here is where the two historic Currie Cup Division One matches pitting Kenya Simbas versus Leopards on June 4 and versus Eastern Province Elephants on June 11 will be held.

Excellent rugby fixtures that no true Kenyan rugby fan worth his salt will want to miss. Pity the disheveled, decrepit venue.

It may be the home of Kenyan rugby but sadly has been left steeped in its glorious past but well overtaken by modernity.

Had this been football, RFUEA ground would long have been banned from hosting international games.

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