Man of matches Mukidza shows mettle in season of highs and lows

Friday December 29 2017

KCB's Darwin Mukidza races to the try line during their Kenya Cup final match against Kabras Sugar at KCB Sports Club in Ruaraka, Nairobi on April 22, 2017. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

KCB's Darwin Mukidza races to the try line during their Kenya Cup final match against Kabras Sugar at KCB Sports Club in Ruaraka, Nairobi on April 22, 2017. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By AYUMBA AYODI
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The 2016/2017 season saw the country’s national teams register mixed results in their international assignments.

It’s time for Kenya Rugby Union, Kenya Sevens team Shujaa and Kenya Simbas to look back and take stock of their achievements and failures heading into a crucial 2017/2018 season.

Besides the Sevens Series that has 10 legs, Shujaa will also be preparing for Commonwealth Games due April 4-15 in Gold Coast Australia and the Rugby World Cup Sevens taking place from July 20-22 in San Francisco, USA.

The Simbas are faced with the 2019 Japan World Cup qualifiers staring in June where they will tackle Morocco, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tunisia and Namibia.

Under their new coach Innocent Simiyu, Shujaa finished 12th overall with 63 points in the 20016/2017 World Rugby Sevens Series following one of their worst performances that saw them finish last at Paris Sevens.

The Simbas finished the season ranked 30th in the world after they settled for second place in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup, losing the battle to Namibia for the second consecutive time.

Perhaps the only good show was when Simbas reclaimed the Elgon Cup from Uganda Cranes but finished the season on a low, finishing last at the Four Nation Hong Kong Cup in November.  Simbas lost their test matches against Germany and Hong Kong in Nairobi.

Brian Asaba of Uganda Cranes (left) tackles Davis Chenge of Kenya Simbas during their Elgon Cup return match at RFUEA grounds on June 24, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |

Brian Asaba of Uganda Cranes (left) tackles Davis Chenge of Kenya Simbas during their Elgon Cup return match at RFUEA grounds on June 24, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya Simbas players celebrate with the Elgon Cup after their 56-51 aggregate win over Uganda Cranes. The teams drew 33-33 in the second leg tie at RFUEA grounds on June 24, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |

Kenya Simbas players celebrate with the Elgon Cup after their 56-51 aggregate win over Uganda Cranes. The teams drew 33-33 in the second leg tie at RFUEA grounds on June 24, 2017. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Locally, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) were unstoppable as they claimed all the three major rugby 15s titles; Kenya Cup league, regional Enterprise Cup and Impala Floodlit under coach Curtis Olago.

KCB players celebrate lifting the Kenya Cup trophy on April 22, 2017 after beating Kabras 36-8 in the final at KCB Sports Club. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

KCB players celebrate lifting the Kenya Cup trophy on April 22, 2017 after beating Kabras 36-8 in the final at KCB Sports Club. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

KCB players celebrate with the trophy after edging out Kabras Sugar in the Enterprise Cup final match on May 27, 2017 at RFUEA ground. KCB won 27-23 to retain the title for the third successive season. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

KCB players celebrate with the trophy after edging out Kabras Sugar in the Enterprise Cup final match on May 27, 2017 at RFUEA ground. KCB won 27-23 to retain the title for the third successive season. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kabras Sugar waylaid all opposition to win the National Sevens Series title under their new coach Charles Cardovillis.

Kabras Sugar RFC players celebrate with the title after they beat Impala 26-7 to win the Sepetuka 7s at Eldoret Sports Club on October 0, 2017. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Kabras Sugar RFC players celebrate with the title after they beat Impala 26-7 to win the Sepetuka 7s at Eldoret Sports Club on October 0, 2017. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenya Lionesses once again played second fiddle to South Africa, finishing second in the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens but did enough to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.

Shujaa had a shaky pre-season that was dominated by grumbling with Simiyu taking over from Benjamin Ayimba as head coach.

Some Shujaa players refused to train while others went on a go-slow over contracts, a development that saw key players missing out in the two opening legs.

World Rugby Sevens Series all-time leading try scorer Collins Injera, Oscar Ouma, Oscar Ayodi, Bush Mwale and Sammy Oliech failed to travel for the legs one and two of Dubai and Cape Town respectively. They were excluded owing to discipline issues after they went on strike over outstanding bonuses, form or discipline issues.

The players agreed to resume training only after the government and Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) agreed to jointly pay them outstanding match bonuses amounting to Sh23 million.

The season proved turbulent for Shujaa. They reach only two Cup quarter-finals in Cape Town and Singapore where they were the defending champions.

Shujaa had made history in 2015/2016 season when they won their maiden leg in the Series in Singapore.

Senior players, who had been axed, were recalled but that failed to spur Shujaa and the in fact posted their worst show in Paris. In that French capital city, they finished last to get one point only.

That horror show came after Sydney Sevens where they got two points after losing in the 13th place play-off.

Kenya Simbas had a lukewarm season even though they got to reclaim the Elgon Cup from Uganda Cranes besides finishing second for the second successive season behind Namibia in the Rugby Africa Cup, now Gold Cup. 

Simbas campaign started on the low as Kenyan fans suffered a heartbreak when Germany fly-half Chris Hilsenbeck curled over a drop goal in the last kick of play to lead the visiting Europeans to 30-29 victory over Kenya Simbas in a Test match at the RFUEA grounds on May 27.

The Simbas reclaimed Elgon Cup from Uganda Cranes when they won  23-18 in the first leg in Kampala on June 10 before drawing 33-33 on June 24 in Nairobi.

The Elgon Cup duel in Nairobi also doubled up as the start of Simbas and Cranes’ Gold Cup campaign. Kenya Simbas won their second Gold Cup tie, touching down 15 tries and 12 conversions to crush Tunisia 100-10, their best over score, at the RFUEA grounds on July 8.

Simbas then later edged out Senegal 45-25 at the RFUEA on July 15, downed Zimbabwe 41-22 in Bulawayo on July 22 but faltered in their final duel against Namibia, who triumphed 45-7 on July 29 in Windhoek. This saw Namibia achieve their fourth successive Gold Cup.

On August 26, a tactical and clinical Hong Kong ran in four converted tries to humble host Kenya Simbas 43-34 in their second international test match at the RFUEA grounds.

The two teams had six days earlier played to a 19-19 draw in an encounter where Kenya fielded a second-string side.

The Simbas would end the season on a low when they lost all their matches against Chile (23-3), Russia (31-10) and Hong Kong (40-30) at the Hong Kong Cup held on November 10 to 18 at the Kings Park grounds, Hong Kong. That came with a heavy price when KRU sacked Kenya Simbas head coach South African Jerome Paarwater on December. The union’s chairman Richard Omwela disclosed that Paarwater has not been available on full time basis and that had seen him fail to deliver good results.

Kenya Simbas team manager Wangila Simiyu (second, left), utility back Darwin Mukidza (left), coach Jerome Paarwater (right) with the team’s defence coach Levy Labeeb at RFUEA grounds on November 3 in Nairobi. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Kenya Simbas team manager Wangila Simiyu (second, left), utility back Darwin Mukidza (left), coach Jerome Paarwater (right) with the team’s defence coach Levy Labeeb at RFUEA grounds on November 3 in Nairobi. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

From left to right: Kenya Simbas deputy captain Darwin Mukidza, team manager Wangila Simiyu, defence coach Levy Habeeb, head coach Jerome Paarwater and deputy coach Dominique Habimana after Kenya Simbas side for Hong Kong Cup of Nations was named on November 3, 2017 at the RFUEA grounds. PHOTO | AYUMBA AYODI |

From left to right: Kenya Simbas deputy captain Darwin Mukidza, team manager Wangila Simiyu, defence coach Levy Habeeb, head coach Jerome Paarwater and deputy coach Dominique Habimana after Kenya Simbas side for Hong Kong Cup of Nations was named on November 3, 2017 at the RFUEA grounds. PHOTO | AYUMBA AYODI |NATION MEDIA GROUP

Omwela said Paarwater often arrived on the day of the games besides fielding players in position that they didn’t play in at their clubs.

On the local scene, KCB claimed their fifth Kenya Cup victory, beating champions Kabras Sugar 36-8 in the final on April 22, this year.

It’s Homeboyz, who had topped the normal league, beating the bankers to second place followed by Kenya Harlequins and Impala Saracens before the play-offs.

KCB later claimed their sixth Enterprise Cup title when they rallied from behind 0-10 to silence Kabras Sugar 27-23 in the final on May 27, this year.

KCB's Darwin Mukidza in action during their Kenya Cup match against Kabras Sugar on January 28, 2017 at KCB Sports Club. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

KCB's Darwin Mukidza in action during their Kenya Cup match against Kabras Sugar on January 28, 2017 at KCB Sports Club. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP

KCB went for their fifth Impala Floodlit title, beating Impala Saracens 18-17 in the final on November 18 at Impala Sports Club.

KCB produced the highest number of players (13) to Kenya Simbas team that won the Elgon Cup and finished second in Rugby Africa Gold Cup besides taking part in Hong Kong Cup of Nations.

KCB fullback Darwin Mukidza captained Kenya to Elgon Cup victory and was man-of-the-match against Uganda and Senegal in Rugby Africa Gold Cup.

Mukidza was the highest points score in Kenya Cup with 171 points that included 11 tries.

KCB utility back Andrew Amonde captained Kenya Sevens in the World Rugby Series, reaching the Cup competition in Cape Town and Singapore.

It was a sad season for the rugby fraternity following the death of several elite players. 

Homeboyz prop Andrew Wekesa was fatally stabbed by thugs in Mlolongo, Machakos on January while KCB centre James Kilonzo was shot dead by criminals in July.

Nakuru backrow Mike Okombe was allegedly stabbed to death by his wife MaryAnne Mumbi at a birthday party in Olive Inn area in Nakuru on November 4.

Hours later, it was double tragedy for Homeboyz and the late Andrew Wekesa’s family when his twin brothers Peter and John perished following a road accident in Mombasa.

Peter captained Homeboyz to win the Eric Shirley Shield in 2011, which saw the Deejay side being promoted to Kenya Cup. Peter and Andrew also played for Impala Saracens.

Local rugby was thrown into mourning again following the death of  former Kenya Harlequin forward George Gachui, who died on November 14.