On October 26 2013, Ofafa Jericho secondary school astonished the rugby world by winning the Impala Floodlit schools tournament schools category. It was a shock victory because no one expected the upstart school from Eastlands to win against traditional rugby schools like Lenana aka Changez.
Up until recently, rugby in Kenya has been a sport for the upper and middle classes. In fact this is the case in most of the world including traditional rugby giants like South Africa, England, Ireland and France. It is only in the Pacific Islands of New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa where rugby popularity cuts across classes.
However in recent years, the tide of rugby has swept across Kenya and upset traditional class stereotypes. Now with Ofafa Jericho winning the floodlit tournament, it is clear that rugby has taken a firm foothold in Eastlands. Ofafa Jericho is a school that is traditionally known for football. Back in 1991, they became the first school from Nairobi to win the national schools football competition in over 20 years. That year Ofafa Jericho had no less than 5 players who were playing in the national football league, most notably Musa Otieno who at age 18 was already the best central defender in the country. Its football fortunes have since fallen and it appears that rugby has been the benficiary of football’s fall.
On their way to winning the Impala Floodlit tournament, Ofafa Jericho beat won all their matches in grand style beating Lenana 18-6, Mangu 8-3 and Alliance 17-0. These were comprehensive wins that showed Ofafa Jericho has mastered the ovall ball. Now keep in mind that Lenana is the school that has produced more national team players than any other and has won the Prescott Cup and national schools title several times. Mangu has won the national title multiple times in recent history and Alliance won the Prescott cup as recently as 3 months ago, beating Rift Valley Academy. What is even more impressive is that this is the 15 a side game, and not 7s where the likelihood of an upset is higher. In 15 a side rugby, the team that has a better mastery of fundamental skills usually wins. That says a lot about how much progress Ofafa Jericho have made.
A school from Eastlands dominating traditional rugby giants in thius manner would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Back in the mid 1990s, this author watched what was then known as the RFUEA sevens. In that year, the only school from Eastlands that participated was Eastleigh secondary. They looked completely out of their depth. At the time, Eastleigh secondary was a basketball powerhouse and one could see them trying to use basketball defensive formations in a rugby sevens game. And their performance was comical at best. Times have sure changed.
One hopes that this is not a false dawn for Ofafa Jericho. Hopefully Ofafa can build a lasting rugby tradition. Back in the early 1990s, Njoro High school stunned the nation when they beat the much vaunted St Marys who had recently won the Prescott cup. But only a few years later, Njoro was a non-entity in rugby. In most cases, a school does well thanks the heroics of a certain teacher or two. Once that teacher leaves, the sport dies a slow death in that school and rugby talent goes to waste.
Rugby taking root in non-traditional areas is a good thing for the oval ball in Kenya.Much credit must go to individuals who have taken it upon themselves to spread the game.
There is plenty of rugby talent in these areas that is waiting to be tapped. But where will cash strapped school leavers play ? Most cannot travel to Ngong road from Eastlands. The onus is on KRFU to make it possible for players in these areas to play after school and build on Ofafa’s success to build the profile of rugby mitaani.