Strathmore University Leos are a match away from making a return to top flight Kenya Cup rugby union league.
The 2012/2013 Kenya Cup losing finalists finished the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship regular season unbeaten in 16 outings and now awaits the semi-final duel suspended because of coronavirus pandemic.
They will meet the play-off winner between former Kenya Cup side United States International University and Northern Suburbs.
University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine will take on Egerton University’s Wasps in the other play-off duel with the winner tackling Masinde Muliro University in the semi-final.
While the Leos collected 76 points to top the 12-team log, Machine finished second with 67 points from 15 wins and one loss.
The two finalists will qualify for the 2020-2021 Kenya Cup.
The play-offs (originally scheduled for March 14), semi-finals (March 21) and final (April 4) matches have been postponed because of the novel coronavirus.
Wrapping up the regular season unbeaten puts the Leos in pole position but head coach Louis Kisia, who took over from John Mbai four matches into the season, Friday said they would remain cautious.
“The battle isn’t over yet. The play-offs will present a different ball game altogether but I am confident the boys will do it in style. They know what is at stake, having learnt the hard way after relegation. They are hungry to get back to Kenya Cup,” said Kisia.
The Leos were relegated after the 2018-2019 season. It was their first drop since their debut appearance in Kenya’s top flight league in 2006.
Kisia indicated that the Leos were not badly off when he took charge since the strength and conditioning coach Malik Ndemi had done good work with the players.
“They might not have had a good preseason but Mbai and Mitch Ocholla, who were there before, had laid down good structures,” quipped Kisia.
He said that as a new coach he had to analyse the team’s strength and weaknesses and come up with what would work for the young side.
Kisia said they had had splendid skill sessions everyday coupled with gym sessions twice a week before team training was put on hold to avoid gatherings.
“The power sessions in the gym were explosives. The goodness is that the players are young and big,” said Kisia.
Kisia said he has instilled in the boys the ethos that rugby is a team sport and each person plays for the other and for the team.
“Respect is core value and that everything will fall in place in an environment where everyone respects each other.”
Kisia said he was more of a mentor than a coach when handling players aged above 18 years who have different ambitions and dreams.
“I have made things democratic and it has worked wonders. The players have bonded,” explains Kisia.
Kisia said he also took time to advise fellow coaches to always know their players strength and ability and play to that.
Kisia reckoned that inconsistency and a downfall in player recruitment were some of the reasons that saw the Leos relegated to KRU Championship.
Once beaten twice shy, Kisia has now laid down elaborate plans to recruit from clubs for next season. “I want to thank Strathmore management for their immense support that has enabled us to scout all over the country,” he said.