The events of Friday 2 August 2002 remain embedded in the minds of many a Kenyan rugby connoisseur.
It is the day that Kenya made a powerful statement to the world of sevens rugby as they began their Commonwealth Games rugby sevens Pool C campaign with a 28-20 win over the highly rated Samoans in Manchester. Remember, the Kenyans had been on the receiving end of a 71-0 drubbing against Fiji at the inaugural Commonwealth rugby sevens event four years earlier in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…but that’s a story for another day.
Back to matters Manchester and it is the Samoans who started the brighter of the two sides, racing into a 10-0 lead and taking a 15-7 advantage into the breather as Mitchell Ocholla scored a converted try for Kenya.
Bill Githinji’s charges were not letting the deficit affect them and they kept going at the Samoans after the restart.
21 year old Dennis Mwanja, a budding talent from Musingu High School now playing his club rugby at army outfit Ulinzi was ungovernable, landing a crucial braced that kept the Kenyans in touch even after Samoa had scored a fourth unconverted try. Steve Gichuki’s conversion after Mwanja’s second try gave Kenya a slender 21-20 lead before Oscar Osir’s late converted try secured the result for Kenya.
Team captain Benjamin Ayimba waxed lyrical after the win. “We really worked hard. We were down in the first half and it looked bad, but we picked up on our defence which is where we won the game.”
When Ocholla’s first half brace saw the team take a 12-5 lead into the break against England in their second pool fixture, many dared believe the team could hold on and stay in medal contention in Manchester. That was not to be as England landed four converted second half tries to claim the 33-12 win.
Kenya headed into their final pool match needing a win against the Cook Islands but started on the wrong footing, trailing 14-0 early on through converted tries from Koiatu Koitau and Vase Samania before Ocholla’s converted try saw Kenya trail 14-7 at the interval. Charles Cardovillis struck at the death, Osir missing the conversion as Kenya missed out on the medals, the 14-12 loss consigning them to the bowl where they exited at the semifinal stage , going down 41-10 to Tonga having earlier beaten Trinidad and Tobago 40-0.