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Thrills and spills of Kenya Cup campaign

Kabaras Sugar rugby team players celebrates after winning against Menengai Oilers at Bull ring stadium at Kakamega on March 12, 2022. Photo by Benjamin Sakwa/ Standard

Picture the scene. A vast expanding rugby field surrounded by long tropical rainforest trees, enclosing a seething mass of humanity, congregating in their yellow shirts, jerseys and scarfs.

Everyone is jumping up and down to the tune of a local Luhya victory song emitting from the giant speakers mounted on the pitch side.

The fans do not care, invading the pitch and the VIP sections to dance with players and club officials. This was the Bull Ring in Kakamega on Saturday when Kabras Sugar lifted their second Kenya Cup title in front of their home fans.

Popularly known for its’s Bull Fighting experience that transverse across and defines Western Kenya culture, the Bull Ring this time played host to a thrilling ‘Rai Derby’ final that saw brothers forget blood relationships and fight for the championship.

The final saw the clash of the Rai brothers, Tej and Onkar.

Onkar is the chief executive officer of West Kenya Sugar Company, who sponsor Kabras Sugar Rugby Club, while Tej serves under the same capacity at Menengai Oil Refineries, the owners of Menengai Oilers.

It was the first final pitting two non-Nairobi teams with Kabras chasing their second title while Oilers were in search of their maiden title. At the end, it was Kabras Sugar who tasted sweetness after five years of disappointments.

Kabras came from behind trailing 18-8 at the half to defeat Menengai Oilers 34-28 in the Kenya Cup final. The sugar men had earlier reached six consecutive finals to only win one.

It was a game of two halves as Oilers dominated the first half and Kabras Sugar giving it a nerve-racking ending in the final half.

The Nakuru based club even led 21-8 with less than half an hour left on the clock to full time, but they could not just hold off the experienced Kabras team.

Fijian-born Kenyan international Jone Kubu put up a man of the match performance to inspire Kabras to victory as curtains fell for the 2021-2022 Kenya Cup season.

Kubu scored a whopping 24 points (a try, five penalties and two conversions) as Teddy Akala and Jenson Musoga each crossed over the white wash as Kabras reclaimed the title they last won in 2016.

On the other hand, semifinal hero Geoffrey Ominde scored 13 points (two conversions, drop goal and two penalties) as Coleman Were and Davis Nyaundi each scored a try in the defeat.

Victory saw Kabras Sugar redeem themselves after painful defeats in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 all at the hands of dethroned king, KCB.

Beldad Ogeta ( center) of Menengai Oilers battles for the ball with Top Fry Nakuru RFC players during the Kenya Cup Match played at Nakuru Athletics Club on February 26,2022.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

This is their second title since promotion with their first coming in 2016 where they beat Impala Saracens.

“It was heartbreak and tears at the start but joy and happiness in the end. We have suffered a lot as fans for the past five years leave alone the painful defeat last year in Nandi. We deserve this. We are champions at last,” Kabras Sugar fan Graham Amakanji said after the match.

Kabras captain and Kenyan international Dan Sikuta said he was happy to win his first Kenya Cup title and is looking forward to many more.

“This is special. The way we did it makes it special. The attitude from all players this season was on another level and I am happy to win my first Kenya Cup,” said Sikuta.

Fijian Kubu was awarded by Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) after emerging overall league Top Try Scorer with a total of seven tries. The award was won by his teammate Brian Tanga in the 2021 season.

In addition to that, Kubu was voted the Player of the Kenya Cup final, taking home the Man of the Match award.

KCB and Kenya Simbas star Darwin Mukidza was awarded with the Top Point Scorer.

Kabras finished top of the Kenya Cup standings at the end of the regular season on 50 points. The lost only one match at the hands of KCB.

The2021-2022 season will however leave a mark in the history of rugby in Kenya for decades to come as it was a season where giants were slayed, old dogs were relegated and boys grew up to became men.

To be precise, every local fan was shocked when defending champions KCB were knocked out at the semifinal stage.

Backed with experienced players including Kenya Seven stars Alvin ‘Buffa’ Otieno, Jacob Ojee, Vincent Onyala, Johnstone Olindi, Andrew Amonde among others, nobody expected the giants to be slayed by five-year-old club Menengai Oilers.

The Nakuru based club defeated KCB 24-17 to knock out the bankers who had graced and won all four all finals since 2017.

The Curtis Olago-led KCB finished third in the 2021-2022 Kenya Cup season after a 52-22 victory over Strathmore Leos in the third-place playoff played at KCB Sports Club on Saturday.

At the same time, young boys Oilers became men by finishing runners up after their defeat in the finals.

The Gibson Weru charges have a lot to learn from after their maiden finals appearance and many will expect them to be even much stronger next season.

“That was a massive game, I am very proud of my team. They came out to play, they came out to compete and win but unfortunately, we fell short.”

“I think the nerves came, inexperience showed when we needed the experience. Kabras were a better side today. They were more composed since they have been in these situations before and I think they have learnt a lot,” said Oilers coach Weru.

On the downside, record Kenya Cup champions Nondescripts and Impala Saracens were relegated to the second tier KRU Championship League.

Kenya’s oldest rugby club Nondescripts lost 13-7 to Homeboyz on the final day of the regular season on February 26th to finish bottom of the 12-team league.

Kabaras Sugar rugby team players celebrates after winning against Menengai Oilers at Bull ring stadium at Kakamega on March 12, 2022. Photo by Benjamin Sakwa/ Standard

This is the first time in the history of the club that they have been relegated since its formation in 1923.Nondies have the most titles (17) and won the first edition in 1975.

Nondies had won three and lost seven going to the final match day and needed a win over the deejays to stay up.

At the same time, 10-time champions Impala were relegated in a controversial manner instead of Kenya Harlequin.

Instead of going by how the teams finished the regular season with Impala finishing ahead of Quins on better aggregate after the two sides tied on 17 points each, KRU opted to go by head-to-head record.

That saw Quins, who beat Impala 29-20 during the regular 2021/2022 session on November 27, get the advantage to stay in the top flight league at the expense of Impala.

Impala Saracens finished ahead of on better aggregate with -47 and in position 10, while Quins finished 11th on -69.

There were “issues” on who would go down between Impala and Kenya Harlequin after both sides tied on 17 points.

KRU’s League and Fixtures Committee director Hilary Itela said his committee came up with the determination as cited in Clause 5.c of the Kenya Cup League manual.

“The principle remains that the results of the fixture between the two teams takes precedence. As per the league manual point 5 that determines league standings in the case that teams are level on match points,’’ said Itela.

“No. 5.c directs that the determinant where such a tie exists, as the results of the matches played between the two teams. There was only one match between Kenya Harlequins and Impala Saracens on November 27 last year that ended 29-20 in favor of Kenya Harlequin.”

 

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