The weekend of the 28th and 29th of March 2008 was a positive one for Kenyan rugby internationally and locally. Across the world in Hong Kong, Kenya beat China, Portugal and Scotland to finish top of their group and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Hong Kong Sevens tournament. In the process Dennis Mwanja scored his 51st try to become Kenya’s leading try scorer in the sevens version of the game, and Kenya moved up one place to 5th in the International Rugby Board Sevens World Series table. Kenya is now an established and respected side in Sevens World Series with a reputation for athletic, fast and strong players.
As the rugby world in Hong Kong was falling asleep after a hard day’s work, the rugby world in Nairobi was waking up in tense anticipation for the most important weekend in the rugby season so far – the semi-final weekend of the Bamburi Rugby Super Series, the elite 15-a-side competition.
The Kenya Rugby Football Union (KRFU), the governing body of rugby union in Kenya, had a vision to transform Kenya into a leading international rugby-playing nation not just in sevens but also in the full 15 player version of the game. To realise this vision KRFU had to do a couple of things. First of all KRFU had to establish who the best rugby players in the country were, and secondly KRFU had to have those players participating in intense competition against each other. The Rugby Super Series was born. As the proverb goes, uhukuma mu luhya, nuwahuka hango, “to have respect in the world you must first be respected at home”.
The annual Rugby Super Series, sponsored this year for the 5th year in a row by leading local cement manufacturer Bamburi Cement, brings together the top 180 rugby players in East Africa. Club teams pick their top players and merge these players with the top players of their partner club to form a Rugby Super Series franchise for a total of six franchises, five franchises from Kenya and one from Tanzania, all named after different animals.
In a day of hard fought battles the Rhinos (made of players from Kenya Harlequins RFC and Mwamba RFC) defeated the Cheetahs (drawn from the players of Impala RFC and Nondescripts RFC), while the second semi final saw the Lions (made up of KCB RFC and Mombasa Sports Club RFC) defeat the Sharks (a Nairobi universities select side). The Buffaloes (made up of Kenya upcountry rugby clubs Nakuru, Kisumu, Bungoma, Egerton University, Maseno and Moi University – Eldoret) defeated the Twigas (a Tanzania select side) in the 5th place playoff.
The true winner of the day was the game of rugby. Fans were entertained, battles were fought on the pitch, standards of play increased and perhaps most importantly friendships were cemented not only between team mates but also between players on opposing sides.
On Sunday morning Kenyan rugby fans woke up to news from Hong Kong that the national sevens rugby team had taken the fight to the mighty Fuji losing 10-0 in the quarterfinals of the Hong Kong sevens with national sevens team coach Benjamin Ayimba assuring fans that it is only a matter of time before Kenya claims that prestigious scalp as well.
Like their compatriots in Hong Kong, players from the national 15 a-sides team as well as players from all the Bamburi Rugby Super Series (BRSS) franchises had a busy Sunday in Nairobi. On this Sunday however, Kenya’s top rugby players would leave their mark not on each other but, in a positive way, on their community. BRSS Chairman Aggrey Chabeda, BRSS Tournament Director, Auka Gecheo, Bamburi Representative Sypie Nyinza, Kenya Rugby National 15s Team Manager Wangila Simiyu, BRSS Director – Events Management Josephine Were and BRSS CSR Officer Thomas Arigi together with over 20 players and fans paid a visit to the National Spinal Injury Hospital on Lenana Road in Nairobi. Following a warm welcome from Dr. Maurice Siminyu, his management team and curious patients the rugby players armed themselves with buckets, mops, brooms and bleach and proceeded to give the hospital a good scrubbing. This was an opportunity for the top rugby players in the country to contribute to their community as well as an opportunity for them to sit, talk and encourage and make new friendships with the patients and the staff of the National Spinal Injury Hospital.
Hong Kong to Nairobi, the rugby pitch to pitching in to help in the community, driving mauls, driving brooms, passing balls, passing buckets, up and unders to lifting spirits, this was a weekend in which rugby was the ultimate winner.