Today, rugby is played in hundreds of secondary schools in Kenya in all eight provinces. There are secondary schools competitions all over the country for both 7s and 15s. There is also a national championships in both editions of rugby and the winners and runners up of the national championships gets to represent the country in the East African school games.
Rugby may be widespread today however this has not always been the case. Much like international rugby which for decades was the preserve of a few elite countries, schools rugby was for nearly 4 decades, the preserve of a few schools, mostly those that were formerly reserved for Europeans during the colonial days. The schools were Lenana, Nairobi School, St Mary’s, Strathmore, as well as schools for expatriates: Rift Valley Academy and Hillcrest. All these were schools based in or around Nairobi.
The Prescott cup was the competition that pitted these schools against each other. First held in 1967, the Prescott Cup was played on a two leg basis after which the top two schools played in the final. Today, it is the top division of the schools league is played across three groups spread countrywide. The three
group winners as well as the best overall runner up qualify for the semi finals from where two teams contest for the Prescott Cup. The Prescott Cup was an all Nairobi affair until 2010 when the Kenya Rugby Union made it a national affair, ensuring schools get to further hone their skills by playing more matches on a more frequent basis.
St Mary’s school is a private catholic school based in Nairobi’s affluent western sections. It is popularly known as “Saints”. It has a rich rugby tradition that has seen it win the Prescott cup no less than 10 times. It has produced several Kenya national team players including Paul Odera, Benedict Nyambu, Allan Hicks, Biko Adema, Charles Cardovillis, Edward Kinyany and John Allan Namu.
Each year, St Mary’s school hosts the Blackrock rugby festival which brings together schools from all over the country. Its is the largest and most famous one day rugby event in Kenya.
Nairobi school, formerly known as Prince of Wales school is another school with a rich rugby tradition. It is popularly known as “Patch ” while the rugby team is popularly “Patch Machine”, a corruption of the popular University of Nairobi rugby team, Mean Machine. Patch has the distinction of producing perhaps
the best rugby player Kenya has ever produced, Edward Rombo. Patch also produced the first indigenous Kenyans ever to play for the East African rugby touring team, the East Africa Tuskers. The two were winger Ted Kabetu and prop Chris Onsotti. This was in the early 1970s. Other Patch products who have played for the Kenya national team are stars of the Kenya national sevens team, Paul Murunga, Ian Simiyu and Felix Ochieng legendary two sport star , Joe “JJ” Masiga who also played for the Kenya national football team in the early 1980s, along with others like Eric Kibe.
Lenana school , formerly known as the Duke of York, is the third school with a rugby tradition in Kenya. The school is popularly known as “Changez” while the rugby team is popularly known as “Mean Maroon” , also a corruption of the popular University of Nairobi rugby team, Mean Machine. Most of those who pioneered rugby for indigenous Kenyans were from Lenana. They were the core members who formed Mean Machine and Mwamba rugby football clubs in the late 1970s. These were players like Absalom “Bimbo” Mutere, Andy Kimwele, and others. JC Wakhu made history when he played for the Kenya national rugby team, and the regional touring team, East Africa Tuskers in 1978. In the intervening years, Changez produced other national team players like Martin
Ndeda Thomas Opiyo, Roger Akena and Sammy Khakame. Lenana School were the winners of the inaugural national schools championships when they beat Kakamega High School 36-6 in the final at the Nairobi School in 1990.
“Changez” Takes on St Mary’s Yala circa 1997
You cannot discuss the Prescott cup without mentioning Rift Valley academy, a school for children of expatriates based in Kenya. RVA once won the Prescott cup 10 times in a row between 1980 and 1990. Then there is Strathmore who though do not have a strong rugby tradition, was competitive in the Prescott cup and produced many national team players like former Kenya sevens players Gabriel Ouko, Curtis Olago, as well as others like Wilson Kopondo, Alois Odhiambo and most notably Daniel Adongo, the first Kenyan to play a top tier rugby union league (South Africa’s Currie Cup).
In the mid 1980s, rugby started to spread to other schools in Nairobi outside the traditional Prescott schools as the sport spread to schools like Jamhuri and Upper Hill as well as other schools outside the Nairobi area such as Mangu. In 1990, Lenana won the inaugural Kenya national schools rugby championships. At the time, Nairobi schools were still decades ahead of upcountry schools. As a
result, Lenana won all games by cricket scores. Still that Lenana team that had future national team players like Sammy Khakame, Roger Akena, Andrew Lopokoiyot and Thomas Opiyo was exceptionally strong. It was in 1992 that people begun to realize that schools outside Nairobi could compete with Nairobi based schools. The upstart Njoro high school from the Nakuru area surprised everyone by beating the much vaunted St Mary’s school of Nairobi which had just won the Prescott cup in grand style beating RVA in an epic final at the RFUEA grounds. That year St Mary’s had players like future
national team winger Andrew Ondiek “Ndiri”. But Njoro with lesser known players like Karisa Ngala and Eric Achola who was a primary school classmate of yours truly would not stand down and ended up shocking Saints. Little did people realize that this was the beginning of the transfer of power from the traditional Prescott schools based in Nairobi to the upcountry schools which did not have much of a rugby tradition. Njoro high has since faded from the rugby scene. Schools typically do well
due to the efforts of one or two teachers. Once said teachers leave, the school’s performance on the rugby usually plummets. Not to worry however, Njoro’s place has been taken by other upcountry schools, most notably Kakamega high school, Maseno, Musingu, Nakuru high, St Marys Yala and Mangu.
Kakamega high has excelled in sevens so much that they have been invited to play in the Dubai sevens youth section. The school has gone on to produce some of the best sevens players in Kenya like Dennis Mwanja, Oscar Osir, Allan Makaka, Humphrey Kayange and Fabian Olando. St Marys Yala products include Ted Omondi and Lesley Mango both former members of the Kenya national sevens team. As the first decade of the new millenium drew to a close, Mangu appears to have taken the mantle as the best rugby school in Kenya, having won the national schools championships in 2010 and 2011.
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|National Schools Champions