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Mwamba ladies bask in glory of Kenya Cup dominance

 Mwamba Ladies' Celestine Ajiambo (left) block Vivian Anyango (with ball) of Northern Suburbs Ladies RFC during Kenya Cup Women finals at RFUEA Grounds. April 6, 2024. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Legendary reggae artist Don Carlos once sang, “I just can’t stop now, I just can’t stop… got to reach the end.”

These words seem to have been the driving force behind Mwamba RFC ladies side as they completed a three-peat in the Kenya Cup. The Mwamba ladies won a third Kenya Cup trophy after thrashing Northern Suburbs 53-0 on Saturday at RFUEA grounds.

On their path to the final, they annihilated Shamberere RFC 81-0. The match could have ended 95-0 had it not been for the referee’s calls. The Kenya Cup for the ladies began three years ago, but the team has been around for two decades.

Mwangi Muthee, the former Kenya Rugby chairman and Mwamba coach, could not have been more proud as the team etched itself in the annals of rugby history. They became the only ladies side and the sixth club to three-peat in the country.

“Mwamba girls fully understand the philosophy of the game. They represent the spirit of rugby in Kenya. They’re the pioneers and take their responsibility seriously. It’s good because the other girls from the other clubs want to emulate them. They’re the role models of the modern game,” Mwangi told Standard Sports as he savoured the weekend win.

So, what was the secret to this achievement? Head coach Baabu Odindi attributed it to the club’s philosophy and hard work.

“There’s an understanding of what it means playing for Mwamba and the desire to break records. The ladies’ game is growing in intensity. When you are at the top everyone wants to play and defeat you, thus we had to work very hard to ensure we remain unbeaten in our three-peat campaign. We are happy and appreciate our opponents who also gave their best,” he said.

Consulting coach Michael 'Tank' Otieno was short in his response: “One thing I can tell you about the ladies is their ability to work under pressure. Whatever drill I came up with, they performed without complaints and took pressure. That is what it takes to be a winning side.”

The cliché, “the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory,” sums up Mwamba’s path to success. The team that has had no sponsor for years has had to self-sustain to make match day or even train. After the Uhuru government deemed it fit to construct a matatu terminus on the iconic railway ground, the club was rendered homeless. With the ravages of Covid-19 and a tough economy, sponsors have been aloof at the idea of joining the club in the journey to not only win but also influence the lives of the young girls.

Mwamba ladies have eight players still in high school, including the deputy captain who is a KCSE candidate, and with a whole future ahead of them.

Pioneer players Angela Olum and Linda Anyango are awestruck by the achievements of the current team that operated on a shoestring budget that they always contributed to.

“Congratulations to the ladies for a third win and making the Mwamba fraternity proud. They did this despite the challenges of playing without a sponsor. Their hard work and dedication will always bear fruit. I encourage them to continue working together as a team and never tire of lifting each other,” Olum said at the Kenya Rugby Union grounds on Ngong Road in Nairobi where the team took home the trophy.

According to Anyango, going forward, “increased investment, sponsorships, and media coverage are likely to boost the profile of women’s rugby in Kenya, creating new opportunities for players and teams to thrive. The future of Mwamba and women’s rugby is bright, with endless possibilities for growth, development, and success on the horizon.”

However, in spite of the challenges, the team’s impact is felt on the national stage by having the bulk of players in the national sides.

National team head coach Dennis Mwanja was also full of praise for the team but he rued the dominance of Mwamba, saying the league needs more Mwambas for the national team to have better pedigree.

“I congratulate the team for the win. Both Mwamba and Impala have a large share of national team players who have access to more training sessions and international experience from coaching staff that gives them an advantage over regular girls. The dominance is not a good thing according to Mwanja who says there is a risk of complacency and entitlement in the national teams and we need more players from other clubs to expand the selection options, raise competition, eradicate complacency and entitlement in the national teams and grow women’s rugby wholesomely. I, however, commend the founders of women’s rugby in Mwamba who sacrificed to make it stable therefore setting the standard and coach Baabu for his continuous recruitment of players to the club as well ensuring players are available,” he said.

However, Mwamba Chairman Jason Braganza differs with Mwanja’s view, saying the dominance is good as there is an urge from the others to step up and challenge Mwamba.

“Mwamba’s dominance is good for the sport. Because on the one hand we are walking with a big ‘X’ on our backs. Teams want to dethrone us. This means we need to continue pushing the boundaries of the game and staying ahead of the curve. On the other, our competitors need to understand the model of sustainable development of women’s rugby. They need to invest from early age grade rugby,” he said.

Braganza, however, says if sponsors do not come into the sport, the teams are chasing a mirage.

“We are very keen to get the KRFU to work more closely with Mwamba and other clubs to get investment into women’s rugby. This is a must if we are to get to the next level as a rugby nation for women,” he said.

Naomi Amuguni, who turns out for Kenya Lionesses and made a stunning 50-yard dash to add to Brenda Ogembo’s four tries, was elated at the win and the effort the ladies put in their climb to the top and defending their title.

“It is an honour and pleasure to wear the black shirt and play with my friends and teammates as we break record after record. We make memories. It’s all in hard work and the mental desire to be the best. We are struggling due to lack of sponsors. Getting a sponsor will enhance the levels of our play in the club,” she said.

The team was dazzling in their play with the likes of Diana Omosso and Faith Livoi combining to do damage in the backs and the lethal combination of Jane Chanya, Stacy Otieno, who captained the side, and Natasha Emali in the pack coupled with the big hits of Angel Salamba who came in as a substitute, Suburbs stood no chance against Mwamba.

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