The date…Saturday 17 April 2010
The venue...RFUEA Grounds, Ngong Road, Nairobi
The protagonists…Kenya Harlequin and KCB
At stake…The Kenya Cup title…
When Kenya Harlequin and KCB stepped out on to the RFUEA turf on the second last Saturday of April 2010, 17th April to be precise, little did we know that they would serve up a dramatic game of rugby…one that remains etched in the minds of many, years down the line, and for all the right reasons.
It was a title match…the Kenya Cup title at stake…it was aired live across the African continent courtesy of Supersport and it lived up to its billing…giving the spectators in the stands value for money.
Those watching the broadcast were glued to their screens…they did not…in the words of many a TV host….touch that dial…it was a tale of two halves….quite literally.
Their paths to the final
Quins had finished the abbreviated regular season with 6 wins and 1 defeat (15-5 away to Nakuru on 27 March 2010) sealing first place and a semifinal clash against eternal rivals Impala which ended 25-16 in their favor.
The season had been abbreviated, played as a one -off to enable the transition from the traditional fixtures played during the calendar year (anywhere from February to September) to the November -May calendar currently in use.
KCB had closed the regular season with 5 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat before stopping Nakuru 20-10 in the other semifinal. Their only defeat had been a record 37-12 result against Quins in match day five action at the Lions Den on 13 March 2010 . This ranks as KCB’s heaviest home defeat to date at Ruaraka since their move from Nairobi School at the close of the 2001 season. The solitary draw was a 6-6 result against Impala on 27 March 2010 at the Impala Club, a game in which Andrew Amonde kicked home the equalizing penalty for KCB.
KCB’s frenetic start
KCB started this game at a frenetic pace, putting Quins on the ropes early on. Fullback Calvins Biko would soon raise a high ball that caused problems for the quartered shirts. This marked a period of sustained KCB pressure that saw scrum half Peter Mutai play in exciting winger Benjamin Ojema who went over for the game’s opening try. 19 year Fabian Olando, playing this game at flyhalf, was sure with the extras as the bankers went 7-0 up.
They were rampant, putting Quins on the backfoot and forcing them into errors. Quins indeed conceded three penalties, all drilled home by Olando’s assured right boot as KCB went 16-0 up midway through the half. At this point, many pro-KCB fans, chanting , “…hapo sawa…!” assumed the final race was done and dusted…but…that is the beautiful thing about finals…they have the opportunity to serve up more drama than a soap opera.
The bankers early intensity dropped, allowing Quins back into the game. Peter Abuoga’s massive boot drilled a penalty over the sticks to make it 16-3 with fifteen of the opening forty still to play.
This seemed to breathe life into what had hitherto been a one sided affair. Quins pressure failed to get them more points on the board and they found themselves falling further behind when Ojema went over for his second try, KCB leading 21-3 at half time, many thinking the game was done and dusted.
A quick exit poll in the stands on the day would probably have revealed the following results….there would be KCB fans telling themselves, ”we got this!” and Quins fans saying, “we can do this” …there would probably also be those fans…the neutrals…just hanging on to see which way the pendulum swung in the second half.
The teams were back on the field of play for the final forty. Would it be KCB building on their first half advantage or Quins clawing their way back from the dead?
The bankers started the second half just as they did the first….but soon fizzled out like a flat soda…or beer…depending on how you look at it.
The Quins revival
Quins were playing with belief, probing the bankers with every opportunity and it was no surprise when 20 year old backrow Jeff Ojwach scored an unconverted try to make it 21-8.
Vincent Ongera, the hooker who loved scoring tries, inevitably went over for their second try, Abuoga converting to bring the score to 21-15.
Boy…oh boy! The tables were turning…right before everybody’s eyes….at the RFUEA and television screens across the continent…one can only imagine what the social media conversations would have been like had internet penetration and affordability been at present day levels….
Quins were solid…urged on by their passionate fans seated at the center stand, singing in unison “…you ain’t seen nothing like the mighty Quin…”
Sudi’s killer blow
KCB were crumbling…conceding a penalty that Abuoga drilled home from quite the distance, the score board reading 21-18 in favor of KCB who were hanging on a string.
Victor Sudi then bullied his way to the try line, his five pointer serving as the killer blow even though Abuoga missed this conversion as Quins led 23-21, their first lead of the match. Abuoga atoned for this miss with another penalty to take them 26-21 up, a lead they would retain to the end despite a desperately furious final rally from KCB to literally grab the 2010 Kenya Cup title.
Quins had done the improbable, scoring 23 unanswered points to claim this victory…sweet victory indeed.
The tale of two halves had been told.
Head Coach Edward “Ogre” Kinyany’ couldn’t hide his joy after the final…attributing his team’s effort to his forwards ability to deal with the usually rampant KCB forwards.
He heaped further praise on his young guns including the likes of Ojwach, Dennis Muhanji, Patrice Agunda and David Ambunya who in his words just wanted to play rugby.
Half time pep-talk
Asked about the half time pep talk that turned things around, Kinyany said, “I asked the boys what they want deep down inside…were they enjoying themselves? The results were plain for all to see.”
Quins skipper Daniel Kiptoo said, “ We came expecting the trophy to be handed to us…KCB came hard…I give credit to my team…we went into the interval and I told the lads…if we want this game…let’s go out and play…if we don’t want it…let’s stay in the changing rooms. We came out…we had the belief in ourselves…we kept our heads…we got the result…kudos to KCB…they did not come lying down…they fought to the end.”
KCB’s Head Coach Michael “Tank” Otieno was frank about his side’s loss, saying, “It’s amazing…we had the game in the first half…we forgot the game plan in the second half…we just stopped playing…we were comfortable just defending…you cannot defend at 21-3…you have to keep on scoring…”
There have been other Kenya Cup finals in the ensuing seasons…some of them one sided…some of them drab…some good…others thrilling…but this one certainly is up there among the best in recent times…