Mombasa, Eldoret now rugby’s big boys
Mombasa RFC will join Eldoret RFC in the 2013/2014 Kenya Cup following the expansion of the league from a 12 to a 14-team affair.
Eldoret won the Nationwide league, beating Egerton University Wasps 26-11 in the final to guarantee a place in the top tier league.
Mombasa, on the other hand, is a beneficiary of affirmative action, as it is among the few regions in the country without a representative in top flight Kenyan rugby.
The coastal side was relegated to the Eric Shirley Shield in 2010 after a dismal season saw them finish last in the league.
“We want the game to grow nationally; therefore we decided to give Mombasa a chance. The coastal area has a number of good clubs that play fine rugby, and the promotion will give a chance to show their potential,” said Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Services Manager, Michael Otieno.
During his election campaign, KRU Chairman Mwangi Muthee promised to expand the game beyond Nairobi, and has since seen the promotion of Western Bulls from Kakamega, Kisumu RFC and now Eldoret and Mombasa.
The first expansion project was to include the promotion of Kisumu, Mombasa and Western Bulls, and the retention of Mean Machine, despite the varsity side finishing bottom of the league in the 2010/2011 season.
The move was protested by most clubs, with six of the then eight Kenya Cup clubs rooting for the promotion of only one club and the relegation of Mean Machine.
Only Mwamba and Strathmore, who incidentally are Machine’s bitter rivals, honoured their opening day fixture and openly declared their support for the latter.
All other clubs stood their ground, threatening to break away from KRU. A deal was eventually reached between the KRU and the clubs.
Eric Shirley Shield winners Homeboyz were promoted alongside Kisumu, with Machine retaining their place in the Kenya Cup.
The Coast, despite have a vibrant game, has had a number of troubles ranging from inadequate sponsorship to internal wrangles that have hindered growth.
In 2010, the club failed to honour most of its away matches due to lack of a sponsor which consequently led to their relegation from the Kenya Cup as they finished bottom of the table.
Months later, some players were accused of being behind a string of thefts at the Mombasa Sports Club, leading to rugby being scrapped from the club’s sports rota.
The players joined other upcoming clubs such as Spartans and Shephards.
The return of Castle Lager sponsored Mombasa RFC mid last year, has, however, brought some hope. They will face the real test in the Kenya Cup come November.
The move has, however, not gone down well with Nationwide League runners up, Egerton, who believe they deserved the second slot.
Stand-in coach Enos Otieno is breathing fire over the matter, insisting any team that wishes to play in the Kenya Cup should go through the qualification process.
“We have even lost the financial support of the administration, as the agreement we had was they invest in the team and we play our way to the Kenya Cup.
“We have lost out to an unfair boardroom call,” says Otieno, who is also the national women’s Assistant Coach.
KRU’s Otieno, however, believes it could be the best way to reward the coast for the massive leaps they have made in community rugby.
“Throwing them in the deep end of the pool may be what they need to get back to where they were. Their growth has been evident,” adds the former Kenya 15-a-side Head Coach.
The tactic seems to have worked for Kisumu and Western Bulls, who have managed to claim a few prominent scalps in the Kenya Cup.