Rugby in Kenya

Football is the number one sport in Kenya but rugby is now threatening to scram the top spot. Fans who throng the stadium to cheer themselves hoarse and party even harder afterwards get an adrenaline rush from seeing hunky and sweaty rugby players crush into each other while provocatively dressed beauties cheer from the stands. What is not in contention is that rugby is receiving unprecedented love from an ever expanding fan base and corporates who are now spoiling for a fight over sponsorships. It is arguably now the biggest Kenyan sport in terms of gate collections going by the crowds and ticket pricing and sales. Rugby did not start recently in Kenya. It has been played for the past nine decades. But the sport has grown and attracted the biggest crowds in the last five years. A section of fans attribute the rise of the sport to the ‘extras’ that come with the game.
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History of rugby in Kenya

  • 1909

    First rugby match in Kenya. The first rugby club was Nairobi Rugby club which split into two in 1923: Nondescripts and Harlequins. During this period, rugby was restricted to whites only.

  • 1925

    The teams competed in the Nairobi District Championship, Kenya’s first formal competition.

  • 1930

    Enterprise cup was introduced. Impala RFC was formed. It was initially called Old Cambrians RFC because it was formed by alumni of the Prince of Wales School aka the Cambrians, now known as Nairobi School aka Patch. They wore red jerseys and white shorts, synonymous with the Welsh national team.

  • 1949

    Impala RFC, then still known as Old Cambrians acquired the Ngong Road grounds.

  • 1950

    Many clubs including Nondescripts RFC, Old Cambrians RFC, Nairobi Railway Club, Kenya Civil Service RFC, Kenya Police RFC, Nairobi Garisson RFC, Royal Air Force RFC. The East Africa Tuskers, a select team consisting of the best players from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania was formed.

  • 1953

    Old Cambrians RFC acquired their current name Impala RFC. The Rugby Football Union of East Africa (RFUEA) was formed to oversee rugby in the three colonies.

  • 1954

    First ever international match in Kenya featuring Kenya Colony against Tanganyika territory.

  • 1955

    One of the biggest events in Kenyan rugby happened when the British Lions toured Kenya. They played against East Africa Tuskers. The Lions won 61-0. First provincial championships under the auspices of the RFUEA. Coast province won the tourney.

  • 1958

    Barbarian tour. They beat the Tuskers 58-12. Kenya Colony vs Uganda protectorate. Kenya colony won 21-11.

  • 1961

    Springboks of South Africa toured Kenya. The Boks won 39-0.

  • 1962

    British Lions vs Tuskers. Lions won 50-0.

  • 1964

    Wales beat Tuskers 26-8.

  • 1972

    Ted Kabetu of Mombasa Sports Club became the first non-white Kenyan to play for the east Africa Tuskers. He was playing at wing at a match against the touring Richmond RFC. East Africa Tuskers toured Ireland, winning three of eight matches. Chris Onsotti was part of this tour and became the first non-white Kenyan to play as a forward for the Tuskers. Kabetu later became the first non-white Kenyan to become chairman of the Mombasa sports club.

  • 1973

    Scorpions RFC, a touring side that was formed in Tanganyika in 1959, moved to Kenya largely due to the fact that the sport of rugby had become non-existent in Tanganyika following the departure of British expats after independence. London Wasps toured Kenya and beat the East Africa Tuskers 31-13. London Harlequins toured Kenya and beat Tuskers by 20-15. Harlequins beat Scorpions 41-6

  • 1974

    On April 9, 1974, a brief inviting all African rugby players to meet for the formation of a continental team appeared in the sports pages of the Nation newspaper. More than 31 players turned up. Later, a headline in the same paper read: “All Black rugby team formed”. The men behind the idea were Bill Okwirry, George Kariuki, and Joe Achungu. The team became known as Miro RFC.

  • 1975

    The East African Tuskers toured Zambia, captained by Peter Evans. In addition to Peter, there were two other members of the legendary Evans family. Ted Kabetu was joined by four other indigenous Kenyans: John Muhato of Impala played fullback. Chris Onsotti at prop and Jack Omaido who at the time played for Nondescripts.

  • 1976

    The Tuskers toured Zambia and were beaten by the Zambian national team 23-6. They also played against an Italian team, Roma Olympic drawing one game 9-9 and losing the other one 6-9

  • 1977

    A group of students at the University of Nairobi came together to form Mean Machine RFC, the first team consisting entirely of non-white Kenyans. This group of pioneers included Tom, Oketch, Absalom Mutere, Cliff Mukulu, Emman Lubembe, Chief Edebe, Aggrey Awimbo, and Ben Mukuria. Machine immediately made a splash that year by winning the Christie sevens.

  • 1978

    Many of the Mean Machine pioneers having finished their studies formed Mwamba RFC. The player included Mwamba Absalom “Bimbo” Mutere and Tom Oketch. Machine reloaded with players like Joe Masiga who also played for AFC Leopards and Jack Omaido who had made history by touring with the East Africa Tuskers while still a high school student.

  • 1979

    Machine and Mwamba had rapidly gone from strength to strength and had made their impact felt in the rugby scene. They were joined by Blak Blad RFC , team representing Kenyatta University. The local scene was now complete with indigenous Kenyans. The East Africa Tuskers toured Zambia again and earned a measure of revenge when they beat Zambia 21-13. Blackhealth RFC, a major London clubside toured Kenya for the second time since 1966.

  • 1980

    Kenyan XV, based on a selection of Kenyan Citizens, played against Zambia in Nairobi. Kenya won the match 23-10. All members of the National team were from Nairobi school and Lenana School.

  • 1982

    East Africa Tuskers last tour when they visited Zimbabwe and Zambia. They beat Roan Antelope 25-6 in the first match. They also beat Ndola Wanderers 20-3, lost 40-19 to Matabeleland, beat Midlands 35-16 before losing to the Zimbabwe national team 15-12. Watembezi Pacesetters, a seven a side touring team was formed.

  • 1983

    Tom Oketch led a star studded Mwamba team to win the Kenya cup in grand style. Some of the Mwamba players were Mean Machine refugees who were at Mwamba following the closure of University of Nairobi after the 1982 attempted coup. The rivalry between Mwamba and Nondies was the highlight of Kenyan Rugby during that period.

  • 1987

    Kenya finished 3rd in the 4th All Africa games behind Zimbabwe who beat them 44-12 and Madagascar who surprised Kenya in the last game of the tournament winning 22-16. In the first match, Kenya had beaten Nigeria 93-6, a score which to date is still the biggest scoring margin Kenya has ever recorded.

  • 1991

    Njoro High School beat the much vaunted St Mary’s in the national schools championships. Mean machine dominated the proceedings in the Kenya rugby scene. They went on to win the Kenya cup and dominate all local tournaments.

  • 1992

    Full back Ken Kanyi died after suffering injuries while playing at the Impala Floodlit Tournament. Kanyi was at that time the best full back in Kenya.

  • 1993

    Kenya hosted the first leg of the first ever world cup qualifiers which pitted them against Zimbabwe, Namibia, and an expatriate team from the Middle East. Kenya lost 42-7 to Zimbabwe, 63-9 to Namibia and beat Arabian Gulf 24-23.

  • 1995

    Barclays Bank RFC and Stanchart Linkers, two teams that had featured in the Kenyan cup for many years, wound up their rugby operations. It was a shame because the two teams had provided many school leavers and veterans an opportunity to play rugby.

  • 1996

    Kenya attempted to qualify for the 1997 IRB sevens world cup. In the last game, they fell to host Tunisia by more than 30 points. In the same year, Kenya took a giant step in raising the standards of rugby by introducing the Safari Sevens. The inaugural tournament was won by Public School Wanderers who beat Zimbabwe in the final.

  • 1997

    Kenya yet again tried to qualify for the world cup when they hosted the qualifying tournament. But yet again, Kenya lost to Tunisia 52-5. However, they recorded a memorable when they beat Arabian Gulf 37-18.

  • 1998

    Kenya was invited to play in the commonwealth games. They however lost to Fiji 70-0. A year later, they were handed another opportunity when they were invited to play two legs of the inaugural IRB sevens.

  • 2001

    The Elgon cup pitting Kenya against Uganda was introduced as if to underline the closing gap between the two teams. Kenya won both legs 44-17 and 12-9 respectively.

  • 2002

    Kenya recorder a milestone when they beat Zimbabwe 19-12. Tries came via flanker Dennis Mwanja and prop Derrick Wamalwa when they were only 19.

  • 2003

    Uganda beat Kenya 31-22 marking the first time ever that Uganda beat Kenya. The loss came about after Kenyan players went on strike for non-payment of allowances and even at one point refused to take the field. Kenyan fans were in disbelief. Kenya beat Zimbabwe 32-24 The KRFU introduced the Super series, a tournament modeled along the lines of the SANZAR super series played between South African, Australian and New Zealand teams.

  • 2004

    Kenya was invited to 7 tournaments in the IRB circuit. They lacked consistency but managed to record some surprise wins over giants like Australia, France and Tonga. Safari sevens marked the first time that a ladies competition was included in the schedule.

  • 2005

    Kenya went to the sevens world cup. They lost the first 3 games before losing in the bowl semis. Kenya participated in the qualifiers for the 2007 world cup. In the first round, Kenya was grouped with Uganda and Madagascar.

  • 2006

    Following stellar performances at the commonwealth games and the IRB sevens series, Ted Omondi attracted the eyes of European scouts and was able to move to Europe to pursue a career playing rugby first in Wales then France. Omondi had been at Mary's Yala and immediately made a splash in the Kenyans sevens circuit as soon as he finished form 4.

  • 2007

    The Super series tournament expanded to include an upcountry team based in Kisumu. Bamburi cement became the title sponsors and the series changed its name to the Bamburi super series. The national team lost to Uganda 10-29 in Kampala. Kenyans had now grudgingly come to terms with the fact that Uganda was more than a match. Kenya recovered to beat African giants Morocco 23-16. Benjamin Ayimba took over as coach of the national sevens team.

  • 2009

    Kenya participated in the qualifiers for the 2011 world cup. They were grouped with Tunisia and Cameroun. They went on to beat Cameroun 76-8 but lost to Tunisia in Tunis thus ending their qualification hopes. Injera became the top scorer for 2008/2009/IRB Sevens World Series season with 42. Kenya hosted the IRB Junior rugby trophy which is contested by second tier nations.

  • 2010

    Kenya won the Elgon cup and Victoria cup in grand style by beating Zimbabwe and Uganda both home and away. The 23-18 win over Zimbabwe in Harare was especially impressive. The wins moved Kenya to its highest IRB ranking ever (35) which was also 4th in Africa. The Kenya women’s team beat Uganda to lift the Elgon cup.

  • 2011

    Kenya was invited to the Emirates Cup in Dubai. It marked the first time Kenya played South American opposition. Kenya beat Brazil 27-25. They beat UAE and lost to Hong Kong.

  • 2012

    Africa cup was held in Tunisia. Kenya lost the opening game 19-20 to rivals Uganda. They however made history by beating Tunisia in their home country. Kenya replaced Coach Benjamin Ayimba with another former player Mitchell Ocholla.

  • 2013

    Nakuru RFC made history by becoming the first team from outside Nairobi to win the Kenya cup. Nakuru, coached by Eric Situma and popularly known as Wanyore, also went on to provide the bulk of the players in the Top Fry Ndovu franchise team that won the 2013 Bamburi East Africa Super series. A month later, the Kenya senior XV won the Elgon cup which they had lost to Uganda in 2012.

Kenya rugby 7s Tickets 2013 visualized

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