Why Nakuru RFC are a pale shadow of their former selves

Shem Angugo (center) of Kabras Sugar battles with Nakuru RFC players during the Kenya Cup match played at Nakuru Athletics Club in Nakuru on December 4, 2021.[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

When it was revived in 1985 after its disbandment many years earlier, former Kenya Cup League champions Nakuru RFC could not dream of getting relegated from the competition.

Nakuru RFC was formed by British settlers at the pre-colonial times and the club took part in national tournaments.

Since its revival, the club has produced great talent (from Nakuru RFC Talents’ Academy) where some of them have over the years gone ahead to serve the national teams in different capacities at the international level.

And as the team roared and conquered the mightiest during their heydays, for some years, the club made Nakuru Athletic Club a fortress. This inspired them to become the first side outside Nairobi to win the Kenya Cup title for two consecutive years (2013 and 2014) just after finishing runners-up in 2012.

All these were achieved under different coaches but former player and the longest-serving deputy coach Jotham Owili is one of the tacticians who has seen it all at Nakuru RFC. 

Nakuru RFC, once considered rugby powerhouse has been a pale shadow of their former selves as they are now staring at relegation. 

“We did our best as a technical bench to assist the club and we ensured the team achieved the best results at our time,” said Owili, who has since left the club.

Even as some of their players continue joined paid ranks abroad in the last decade, they still returned home to give back to the society.

They included Charles Okumu who was in the United States of America in 2001, Pascal Wetukha (Sri Lanka, 2004), Edwin Shimenga (Canada, 2005), Cyprian Shimenga (USA, 2005/2006), Enos Otieno(Sri Lanka, 2004/USA 2007), Anthony Muiruri (USA, 2006), Gibson Weru (USA, 2006), Aggrey Omiyo (USA, 2006) and Paul Omiyo (USA, 2006) among the others.

But all these successes have been watered down by many factors that have led to their poor performance in the domestic scene.

For the last two years, the club has lost its best players to their rivals while others moved abroad in search of greener pastures.

In the recent past, some of the players who have ditched the club are Walter Okoth who moved to Kabras Sugar, Kelvin Kioko (Daystar University), Geoffrey Ominde, John Okoth (Menengai Oilers), Monate Akuwei (USA), Kelvin Omusebe (left due to injury), Lorence Ishuga (Kenyatta University), Clinton Kioko, Collins Enonda, Crispin Onyango and Augustin Shisanya.

After the departure of these key players, the club promoted 12 youngsters to the senior side from their academy. They include Newton Okeyo, Felix Okoth, Edwin Anunda, Hannington Wabwire, Fredrick Odongo, Samuel Mwaura, Brian Kimani, Jenkins Kipruto, Moses Mwangi, Thomas Okeyo, Gibson Mugwe and Ignatius Gichure.

Some of the renowned coaches who have handled the club include Julius Kainga (1989), Andy Moy (1991-92), Max Muniafu (1993-96), Charles Okumu (1997-2001), Allan Omuyaku (2002-2005), Jotham Owili (2005-2008), Erick Situma (2009-2010 and 2011-2013), Dominic Habimana (2014-2015), Enos Otieno (2016-2017), Mitch Ocholla (2018-2020) and Felix Oloo (current coach).

According to Nakuru RFC team manager Hillary Kisangi, the recently promoted players are still too young to match the speed of some of the experienced players in the league but they will gradually catch up.

“These youngsters cannot match the speed of experienced players in the league championships and national tournaments hence the dismal performance we are currently experiencing. Before long they’ll be in a position to give them (experienced players) a run for their money in different league matches and national tournaments,” Kisangi told Standard Sports.

Even as they continue with their rebuilding process, Kisangi said they are trying their best to avoid relegation.

“Our aim is to ensure Nakuru RFC survives relegation in the Kenya Cup this season before we focus on solutions for other problems facing us in order to return the club to its former glory,” said the team manager.

Nakuru RFC are in the tenth position with seven points from seven matches with three matches to go before the conclusion of the regular season. The play-offs are slated for February 26.

They host MMUST in Nakuru on Saturday before taking on Kenya Harlequin on February 12 in Nairobi.

Their last match will be a derby against Menengai Oilers at Nakuru Athletic Club on February 19.

Odera names training squad for final Rugby World Cup qualification
Shujaa finish 12th at Rugby World Cup
Koyonzo crowned new rugby sevens champions as Stafford lift 3x3 title
Schools games: Koyonzo crowned new national rugby sevens champions