The 2017/2018 rugby season proved a roller-coaster for local fans, but the failure by the national team 15s team, Kenya Simbas, to qualify for the 2019 Japan Rugby World Cup left fans heartbroken.
Kenya Sevens blew hot and cold in their campaign at the San Francisco Rugby World Cup, and the World Sevens Series whose last leg in Paris saw Kenyan players stage a protest, ruining a rather good ending, the team having reached two Cup finals.
The incident might have cost Kenya Sevens head coach Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu his job. During his two-year tenure, Simiyu had battled player revolt, strikes and go-slows over pay.
However, women’s national sevens team, Kenya Lionesses, and Kenya Under-20 men’s team Chipu gave the country something to smile about.
The Lionesses won their maiden Africa Sevens title in Gaborone, ending South Africa dominance with Chipu finishing second in Southern Group, having lost to Namibia only after beating Madagascar and Zimbabwe.
Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) retained the Kenya Cup rugby league title unbeaten, becoming the first team to achieve the feat since 2011/2012 when Kenya Harlequin won the diadem.
Homeboyz claimed a double, winning the Enterprise Cup before recapturing the National Sevens Series for the team’s second Cup success.
University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine mastered the slippery field to beat fancied Menengai Oilers 10-5 and claim the Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship Cup, both teams earning promotion to the 2018/2019 Kenya Cup.
Safari Sevens tournament may have made a return to its traditional venue of RFUEA grounds in November after seven-years period during which it was held at Nyayo National Stadium and Kasarani, but Kenya’s premier sevens rugby tournament struggled to attract teams and fans.
The tournament was marked by low attendance by fans and visiting teams, forcing organisers to reduce it to a 12-team, draw.
Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) fired Kenya Simbas coach, Jerome Paarwater, in December last year, the South African having handled the team since 2012.
Paawater also almost guided the Simbas to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where the team failed to qualify on superior aggregate. Namibia got the nod during the 2014 qualifiers alongside automatic qualifiers South Africa.
KRU would appoint New Zealander Ian Snook as Kenya Simbas head coach, with his fellow countryman Murray Roulston as his deputy on March 19 this year.
Their first assignment was the Africa Gold Cup that doubled up as the 2019 Rugby World Cup Africa qualifier tournament from June 16 to August 18.
Kenya performed well but the journey to the 2019 Rugby World Cup again looked so near yet so far. The Simbas beat Morocco 28-24, overcame Zimbabwe 45-36, Uganda 38-22 and triumphed against Tunisia 67-0 to set up the final clash against champions Namibia.
In the end, it looked an easy hurdle to scale for Namibia, who won 53-28 to book their automatic ticket to the 2019 Rugby World Cup set for Japan.
After failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup through the Africa Gold Cup, Simbas, who finished second, got another chance to try and qualify from the tough Repechage tournament held between November 11 to 23 in Marseille, France.
Despite struggling to work on the players’ strength and conditioning aspects, Snook and Roulston, who had quit in a huff over unpaid dues, the Simbas suffered heavy losses in France, with lack of build-up matches compounding their misfortunes.
The Simbas only played one build-up match against Romania which they lost 36-6 just 10 days before the Repechage.
The only consolation for local fans was perhaps when Simbas won Elgon Cup, defeating Uganda Cranes on 72-38 on aggregate.
The Simbas won the first leg in Kampala 34-16, and took the second 38-22 in Nairobi, the match that counted for Gold Cup. The poor run by Simbas elicited calls for the revival of the Super Rugby Series, with other stakeholders calling for Kenya’s return to Vodacom Cup in South Africa.
Coming from the 2016/2017 season in which Kenya Sevens missed relegation from the World Rugby Series by a whisker after finishing 12th, Simiyu, who missed most of the key players owing to strikes over pay, had them back for the 2017/2018 season.
The team surpassed the 100 points mark, clocking 104 for the first time to finish eighth overall in the Series, reached all the main Cup quarterfinals with the exception of Cape Town and Paris Sevens.
The highlight of the season was when Kenya reached the Cup final in Canada Sevens and Hong Kong Sevens where they lost to giants Fiji in both occasions.
In Canada, Kenya beat England and United States 12-0 and 24-19 respectively on their way to the final, having lost to Fiji 24-21 in the pool stage. They would tame Scotland 19-12 before stunning New Zealand 21-12 to reach the Cup final in Hong Kong.
The team finished seventh in Dubai, Sydney, Las Vegas and Singapore, and won Challenge Trophy in London.
South Africa got to retain the Series with 182 points, having only won two legs in Dubai and Paris, beating Fiji to second place by two points despite winning five legs in Hamilton, Singapore and London in addition to Canada and Hong Kong.
There was drama in Paris when Kenya Sevens players concealed the logo of the team’s sponsor, and Brand Kenya message. Upon arrival from France, KRU sacked Simiyu just hours after Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala revealed that he had instructed Brand Kenya to cancel its eight-month Sh20million partnership with KRU.
The Union said it had mutually parted ways with Simiyu immediately the coach took full responsibility for the incident. Even though Simiyu was later reinstated after Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa intervened, Kenya Sevens was a pale shadow of the team that had reached the semi-finals of the two previous Rugby World Cup Sevens.
They finished a distant 15th at the San Francisco Rugby World Cup Sevens that ran from July 20-22 where New Zealand reigned supreme, beating England 33-12 to lift the title.
Simiyu’s job was advertised but he chose not to re-apply. Out went Simiyu, in came Paul “Pau” Murunga for the 2018/2019 season. The long-serving strength and conditioning coach Geoffrey Kimani, who had his job back, quit before the start of the 2018/2019 season.
A second-string Kenya Sevens team failed to reclaim Africa Sevens Cup, losing to Zimbabwe 17-5 in the final of the event held October 13-14.
Kevin “Bling” Wambua’s Kenya Lionesses lifted the Africa Women’s Sevens title, crashing regional arch-rivals Uganda 29-7 in the final on May 27 in Gaborone, Botswana.
The Lionesses had thrashed Zambia 42-5 in the quarterfinals and beat Madagascar 27-0 in semi-finals, while three-time finalists Uganda beat the 2012 champions Tunisia 10-5 in the semi-finals.
KCB stopped the 2016 champions Kabras Sugar 29-24 in the final on March 24 to not only defend the Kenya Cup title for their sixth Cup success but pulled through unbeaten, having topped the league in regular season.
The bankers had beaten Impala Saracens 15-0, while Kabras Sugar bundled out Homeboyz 29-13 all in the semi-finals.Homeboyz crashed Mwamba 28-0 to retain Great Rift 10-a-side on April 1 at Nakuru Athletics Club.
Homeboyz would then lift their maiden 15s title, beating Impala Saracens 21-3 and lift this year’s Enterprise Cup at the RFUEA ground on May 5.
Homeboyz had brought KCB’s three-year-reign to an end when they beat the bankers 12-10 in the semis.
Homeboyz would reclaim the Stanbic National Sevens Series title, beating Kenya Harlequin 24-19 to lift Christie Sevens on September 16.