It's perhaps the battle that will determine whether Kenya Cup rugby league final will once again head to the Forest in Kakamega or return to the Den, Ruaraka, Thika Road.
Excitement has been building up coupled with heavy banter from rivals fans on social media for the last one week as champions Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Rugby and Kabras Sugar prepare to face-off in the second phase of the league on Saturday at the Den, Ruaraka.
The two sides met last during the Kenya Cup final on May 18 at Kakamega Showground where KCB led 7-5, fell back 15-7, before winning 23-15 for their third consecutive Kenya Cup title.
KCB had earlier in the season beaten Kabras Sugar 44-20 before the Forest clash. Kabras had topped the league in the regular season, winning the rights to host the final. It was the first time Kenya Cup final was being held outside Nairobi.
Both teams have been imperious this season and head into the big clash with 25 points each, having not lost in five outing from their previous pools.
All the victories came with bonus points, but it's Kabras Sugar, who enjoy the lead on better aggregate.
The two team have met 11 times and the best result Kabras Sugar has chalked against the bankers is the 15-15 draw dating back to 2016 at the Kakamega Showground.
This Saturday marks the start of the second phase where teams from the two pools get to meet each other in round of five matches, before they return to their respective pools for the third phase.
The teams have beefed up theirs squads, besides making tactical shifts in their starting line ups.
Influential skipper Curtis Lilako makes a return to the KCB side for the first time this season, replacing Paul Nyandat, who moves to the bench at tight-head prop.
Kenya Sevens players blind-side flanker Andrew Amonde and left wing Jacob Ojee make way for Martin Owillah and Isaac Njoroge respectively, having featured in their slim 27-24 victory against Homeboyz
Another Kenya Sevens player Vincent Onyala, who started off the bench against Homeboyz has been replaced by Elphas Otieno, who is also making his first start this season.
Besides Lilako and Owillah, Oscar Sarano, Oliver Mangéni, Nick Ong’eri, Davis Chenge and Rocky Anguka will play a crucial in the battle of forwards for the bankers.
The only change in Kabras Sugar’s side is at the bench where front-row Dan Sikuta, who came in for Charlton Mokua, will be away. His place has been taken over by Kevin Wekesa.
The only serious test and low scoring duel Kabras encountered was in their 27-3 victory against the touring Impala. It’s the only duel they won with less than points. Their highest result was an 89-0 win against Kisumu. They have only conceded three tries to top Pool “B”.
Kabras Sugar too have a strong pack what with Lawrence Buyachi marshalling the assault. Perhaps Kabras Sugar’s backline will be in focus with fly-half Fijians Jones Kubu, fullback Avisai Kuruyawa and centre Timoci Sinaite out to stop the bankers. Also to be watched is South Africa’s centre Dukisa Ntabeni.
KCB’s only real test this season came last weekend against Homeboyz, where they rallied to win 24-25, with their highest score coming against Nakuru where they won 50-13.
KCB deputy coach Dennis Mwanja was cautious on approach ahead of the duel.
“It is still a learning curve for us right from the Homeboyz encounter. It will be more of a mental game with lot of physicality also coming to play,” said Mwanja.
“We would like to uphold our unbeaten run against Kabras.”
“We intend to keep focus the whole 80 minutes. We always lose at the end of the game against KCB and that is what we want to avoid,” said Kabras Sugar head coach Henley Du Plessis.
Fixtures (All matches start at 4pm)
KCB v Kabras Sugar (The Den, Ruaraka); Harlequins v Mwamba (RFUEA); Nakuru v Impala (Nakuru Athletic Club), Menengai Oilers v Nondescripts (Nakuru Showground), Homeboyz v Blak Blad (Jamhuri Park Showground); Western Bulls vs Kisumu ( The Bullring, Kakamega)