Kenya Cup has been the dominant and most popular rugby league backed by a huge following across the country but the 2019-2020 Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship has provided a new wave of competition rarely witnessed for the past years.
The second-tier rugby league has provided fans with entertaining and competitive results that has seen the rise of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST RFC) among the top teams in the western region for the past three years.
MMUST, as they are popularly known, has already put up their best performance of the two season’s they have been in the championship.
The university students are in contention to be promoted to the Kenya Cup next year for the first time in their history after finishing second in the 2019-2020 Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship regular season.
After registering 15 wins out of 16 in what was their best-ever season of rugby with 67 points, the Kakamega based students booked a home semifinal playoff spot which they need to win to book a ticket to the 2021 Kenya Cup.
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And at the helm of these excellent achievements is assistant Coach John Asila.
Nicknamed ‘Ndovu’ because of his physic, Asila is among the management team of the university rugby team that has seen through the transition of the team from being a regular Nationwide League participant to contesting for promotion in Kenya’s top rugby league, the Kenya Cup.
Coming from a region dominated by rugby teams inclusive of Western Bulls, Kabras Sugar, Vihiga RFC, Kakamega High and St Peters Mumias, Asila said it has not been an easy stroll in the park as they have had to dig deep and grind for development and wins.
“A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work. For us in MMUST, together with the technical bench, team manager and the head coach, we have really worked hard for the past six years to be where we are,” he said.
“We have sacrificed a lot to build a very strong and competitive team and I cannot be much proud of what we are about to achieve; playing in the Kenya Cup.”
Asila says he joined MMUST six years ago while they were playing in the Nationwide League and it took them four years to make their maiden debut in the Championship in 2018.
“During the 2017-18 season, we qualified for championship after going the all-season unbeaten,” said the former Vihiga coach.
In their maiden season in the championship, MMUST impressively finished fifth in a start-studded league that comprised of Kisumu RFC, Western Bulls, Catholic Monks and USIU RFC.
Unfortunately, their dream of qualifying for the Kenya Cup was shattered after being knocked out by eventual winners Kisumu RFC in the quarterfinal playoffs.
“We did not give up despite going out at a time we were enjoying a streak of good form. I believed we could make it and am glad the boys stayed positive ahead of the following season,” said the 40-year-old.
The 2019-20 season saw the relegation of Kenya Cup sides Mean Machine and Strathmore Leos who were viewed as stronger sides and obvious contenders for the two promotion slots but they were in for a shock.
MMUST came out as one of the strongest sides in the championship this season, beating Mean Machine at their back yard before losing their only match of the regular season to eventual table-toppers Strathmore Leos.
“It was not easy. This season we gave it all and am glad that thee boys came through at a time where we needed wins most,” he said.
He believes MMUST will qualify for the Kenya Cup next season if sports resume in the country after the coronavirus pandemic halted the season which was at the playoff stages.
“I am very confident of MMUST making it to the top league. When things return to normal, I believe we will pick from where we left,” he said.
MMUST will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between Mean Machine and Egerton Wasps in the semis with a win automatically validates their promotion to the Kenya Cup.
Asila started playing rugby at Kakamega High in the early 2000s before turning out for Ulinzi RFC for three years.
He also played for the defunct Kakamega RFC and Western Bulls before turning to coach.
He was the Kenya national under 19 assistant coach for two years between 2011 to 2012 and also the Development Rugby Officer of Western Region for a year.