What a time for one of Kenya’s most accomplished rugby player to hang his boots. Next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games will perhaps be the stage to call it quits after his chequered rugby career that has seen him become the envy of many as he juggled between the sevens and 15s versions of the game and family life with ease.
Tossed into the world of rugby right after high school in 2004, Andrew Amonde has established himself as an astute all-round player by earning 50 international caps in 15s and 70 international caps in sevens.
The father of two, who used to play basketball and handball in high school, taking Kisumu Boys to the nationals on several occasions, seems to have discovered what he wants to do after his active days as a player are over in rugby.
Winning the Africa Gold Cup twice in 2011 and 2013 with Kenya Simbas and captaining the Kenya Sevens team to their historic Singapore Sevens victory in 2016, are things that Amonde holds dear.
That is why the 35-year-old Amonde, who now has one more season left in his playing career, wants take a slightly different route but within rugby circles to give back to the society.
“I won’t be in this game for long and with next year’s Tokyo Olympics being my last competitive outing, I want to fully major into strength and conditioning coaching purely in rugby,” says Amonde, who is determined to have Kenya qualify for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, having failed through the 2018/2019 World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We have lacked variety in rugby, the game lacks proper strength and conditioning coaches,” explains Amonde, who is now through with World Rugby Level I coaching and heading to Level II.
“The needs for rugby are quite different from football, athletics and any other sport hence specialisation is vital.”
Amonde says while both versions of play have made him a complete and all-round player, his biggest asset and secret for longevity in rugby has been his strength and conditioning sessions.
“I have always taken them seriously and religiously both off season and in season,” explains Amonde, adding that both versions of the game have done a lot in building his culture and motivation which has seen him captain the Sevens team.
“I observe the protocol of rest where I give my body time to rest and recover from knocks.”
Apart from physical challenges every rugby player encounters, Amonde says his rugby playing career been a roller coaster of thrills.
Amonde explains that it has never been easy as it has taken him hard work from the team’s management and playing unit at Kisumu where his rugby journey started to his current side Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Rugby Club and on to the Kenya Sevens and Simbas sides.
“I cannot forget my friends and family members who kept on encouraging and pushing me to achieve more especially when it reached a time when I was faced with career-ending injuries,” says Amonde.
Winning the Rugby Africa Gold Cup twice and especially beating Tunis 16-7 in Nairobi to lift the continental title for the first time in 2011 was perhaps the biggest highlight in Amonde 15s career.
However, its coming close to qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup during the 2014 Africa qualifier that made him believe that Kenya was capable of making it if everything was in order.
After stunning champions Namibia 29-22 and hosts Madagascar 34-0, Kenya only needed a point from their last encounter with Zimbabwe to qualify for the maiden RWC.
However, the Simbas would surprisingly lose 28-10 to finish third despite tying on 10 points each with Namibia and Zimbabwe. Namibia qualified directly while Zimbabwe had a second opportunity to try and qualify from Repechage tournament.
“We just needed to point from the Zimbabwe match to secure a place in the World Cup after having beaten favourites Namibia,” notes Amonde. “In all the games that I had played, that was the most important match for me.”
Before the game, Amonde explains that they knew they had it after they cleared the toughest hurdle that was Namibia. More so, under Jerome Paarwater, they had built a strong team, having also had good build up starting with Vodacom Cup.
“But after beating Namibia, we slumped into laxity as Zimbabwe had other plans to stop as at the last hurdle. It was a painful scenario and many players broke down,” says Amonde who hopes that Kenya will have a team that eventually take the country to the rugby 15s’ Promised Land.
Amonde has played for Kenya Simbas since his first call up by head coach Michael “Tank” Otieno for the 2006 Elgon Cup. The ever-green Amonde led Kenya Simbas in their successful defence of the Elgon Cup after overturning a 16-13 defeat in Nairobi to win 15-5 in Kampala.
The two legs of the Elgon Cup also counted towards the Victoria Cup for both Kenyan and Uganda. The Victoria Cup, that also involves Zambia and Zimbabwe, has been revived and is being played for the first time since 2011 when Zimbabwe won.
Amonde touched down a brace of tries as Kenya won their third match against Zambia 43-23 in Kitwe, Zambia on July 27 and they were to meet Zimbabwe the next day.
Amonde has won six Kenya Cup rugby league titles with Kenya Commercial Bank since joining the side at the end of 2005 from Kisumu, having been fished out from the lakeside club by Otieno with influence from KCB team manager Wangila Simiyu and players like Derrick Wamalwa and Anthony Ogot.
“I have had some of the best and worst moments with KCB. I remember in 2008 when I broke my jaw to lose all my front teeth and got admitted for four days. I also broke my leg. I was really scared and wondered if I wanted to continue playing. I took three months to recover,” says Amonde.
It’s former Kisumu Rugby Club players Felix “Flex” Oketch, Paul Okongo, Andrew Okwaro, Fred Maobe and Newman Opiyo, who drew Amonde to rugby back in 2004.
“We resided next to Kisumu Polytechnic where I used to frequent to watch Kisumu RFC train after I cleared school,” said Amonde, who joined Kisumu as winger/centre in 2004.
“These players were drawn to my heavily-built sporting physique and Flex was particularly impressed. They all encouraged me to try out and visited me at home.”
However, it’s at KCB where Amonde’s journey into serious rugby got the right tone. “I had challenges since I had not played rugby before. I was not as good as the guys who played rugby and was still learning the basics when I joined from Kisumu,” explains Amonde.
“What kept me going was my urge to learn and more so my character in sport built from school.”
Within months of joining Kisumu, Amonde was drafted to the Buffaloes Franchise side for the 2005 Bamburi Super Rugby Series.
The side had seasoned players among them Charles Cardovillis, Paul Murunga, Hillary Itela and Curtis Olago hence Amonde didn’t make the final side to face the Lions that had Ogot and Wamalwa.
Just as he earned his first international cap with the Kenya Simbas at the 2005 Elgon Cup, Amonde was also drafted to the Kenya Sevens by head coach Benjamin Ayimba, who put him on the reserve list for the Dubai and George Sevens legs of the 2005/2006 World Sevens Series.
Amonde says his sevens journey that started at the George Sevens in South Africa during the 2006/2007 World Rugby Sevens Series, hasn’t been easy.
He has waylaid all the odds to captain the team for the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens semi-final, the history 2016 Singapore Sevens victory and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Ayimba might have given Amonde the first call up and breakthrough but he hastens to point out that he didn’t achieve much until Mike Friday’s tenure in 2012/2013.
“Friday came up with a different concept of training that included strength and conditioning and proper nutrition. Many players peaked and we were able to perform well,” said Amonde as he captained the team to their best ever finish to the season during the 2012/2013 World Rugby Sevens Series.
They finished fifth overall having reached the final in Wellington and semi-finals in Dubai, Hong Kong and London.
Perhaps winning the 2016 Singapore Sevens, their maiden victory in the World Rugby Sevens highlights Amonde’s sevens rugby career.
“It was a huge step for us since the hard work that we put in paid off at long last,” he ponders.
Amonde says that he thought by coming almost to qualifying to the 2015 Rugby World Cup and winning Singapore Sevens would change the face of the game in the country.
“We thought the two great happening in 15s and seven would build a legacy with both the Simbas and Shujaa teams winning regular but it has not happened,” he regretfully explains.
“Instead, what we have witnessed is a lot of interference and interruption and no flow.”
Amonde says the huge turnover of coaches both in 15s and sevens with frequent boycotts by players has been their main undoing.
“There is a lot that goes around that does create a good atmosphere in the team especially from the KRU board,” said Amonde.
Kenya Sevens has been handled by eight coaches in the last nine years; Benjamin Ayimba, Mitch Ocholla, Mike Friday, Paul Treu, Felix Ochieng, Vuyo Zanqua, Innocent Simiyu and Paul Murunga.
“This is a recipe of instability and in my opinion either Friday or Simiyu should not have left … Friday and Treu built strong sides that could have won events. In fact, the team that won Singapore Sevens was moulded by them.”
Amonde says that Friday has been with USA since he left Kenya and its quite evident what he has been doing with the team, having narrowly missed out on winning the 2018/2019 Series recently.
“Simiyu could have taken us far after we reached two Cup finals in the 2017/2018 season in Canada and Hong Kong,” quips Amonde. “He has better understanding of the game hence the Union should have resolved what surrounded his departure.”
Amonde said replacing Kenya Simbas coach Jerome Paawater just months to the 2019 Rugby World Cup was the worst move KRU made. “I believe we could have won the Africa qualifiers in 2018 and qualify for the World Cup with Paawater,” says Amonde.
He explains all good teams do well because they have consistent structures for salaries, match allowances and bonuses.
“There can be no stability when we keep on changing coaches since every coach will come up with his own strategies and ideas and it takes time for players to adjust to their philosophies.”
The KCB flanker says that a lot needs to be done if Kenya is to qualify for the 2023 Rugby 15s World Cup.
“We need to rebuild now and that can only happen with frequent and test matches against the like of Germany, Romania and Russia and not Uganda,” says Amonde, who wants KRU to revive the Rugby Super Series besides setting up centres of excellence especially in Nyanza and Western region.
“Let us make Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup vibrant by sourcing for credible sponsors in view coming up with good prize money,” he says.
Amonde admits that he owes a great debt to his family who have played a big role in his rugby career especially his wife Damaquelyne Omwenga and his father Edward Oyoo, a former heavyweight boxer.
“It’s my dad who encouraged me not to lose track after I broke my jaw and leg,” he says while adding that his wife has given him the time, peace, support and cooked all the right meals.
“She has been my biggest anchor and my other eyes, a person that I rely on when things are tough.”
Other than his father, Amonde has several role models and mentors including the late Andrew Okwaro, Derrick Wamalwa, Victor Sudi and Innocent “Namcos” Simiyu but it is Sudi, who introduced Amonde to Omwenga at a social function in Nairobi.
"We dated for a while before we consummated the relationship in 2016 at a wedding ceremony,” he says while beaming.
Amonde, who likes relaxing at home with his daughter Nicole, 7, and son Tyler, 2, when not in rugby business, advises upcoming players to focus and dedicate fully to what they want to achieve in life.
He loves cooking with fish and ugali his favourites. “I am good at preparing both especially on Wednesdays,” says Amonde, who celebrates his birthday on Christmas Day.