By Mike Kwambo
The Kenya Cup is around the corner. It promises to be an enthralling season in 2009.
With the kick off whistle yet to be sounded, there should be an almighty battle for the Kenya Cup in 2009.
The top contenders
While every team views itself a likely candidate for the title, my predictions are that these three teams: Kenya Harlequin FC, Impala RFC and Kenya Commercial Bank RFC will battle it out this season for Kenya Cup honors.
These three teams have collectively dominated the Kenya Cup, sharing the title amongst themselves since 1998.
As defending champions. Kenya Harlequin know the tasks that lie ahead of them; mounting a title defence and re-establishing themselves at the summit of Kenyan club rugby for a good number of years. They have the personnel to do so. Led by swashbuckling Kenya prop Daniel Kiptoo, the combative David Mogere and Allan Onyango as well as the turbo charged legs of Sidney Ashioya, the Ngong' Road side will be out for a second successive title.
Its been five years since their last Kenya Cup triumph in 2004 but Impala RFC cannot be knocked out of the equation. With the returning Bill Githinji back at the helm as head coach, the "Gazelles" could push Quins all the way for the title if they consistently turn in winning results.
The experience and leadership of Kenya centre Innocent Simiyu is key for this side as demonstrated at the recently concluded Impala Floodits where he led Impala to victory with his man of the match performance over KCB .
Vincent Mose, their new signing at fullback from Nakuru RFC is in my opinion the X-factor in Impala's Kenya Cup bid.
Kenya Commercial Bank RFC were two time Kenya Cup runners up in 2002 and 2004 before winning their maiden titlein 2005 and hogging it for two successive years in 2006 and 2007 before finishing third in 2008. They are in my opinion the weakest of the big three. The core squad that served them between 2002 and 2007 has gradually disintegrated due to retirements and other factors. They have also had four coaches in three years, Michael "Tank" Otieno, Bill Githinji, Simon Jawichre and "Tank" again.
Despite this,the presence of Peter Mutai, Andrew Amonde and Anthony Ogot should serve to spur the "Lions" to towards Kenya Cup success.
Hopefully,Michael "Tank" Otieno who oversaw that success filled era between 2002 and 2007 could wave his magic wand again and coach KCB to victory in a year when the Thika Road club celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The dark horses
The dark horses are Mwamba and Nakuru BUT I do not think that any of them have made a big enough improvement to catch the big three, but I think the gap between this group and the big three will probably be closer than ever before.
The Jotham Owili revolution is certainly underway at Nakuru as he has had the luxury of maintaining his core side for close to three years and rewarded the "Wanyore" with a fourth place finish in the 2008 Kenya Cup and their first major fifteens silverware in 45 years courtesy of that memorable 34-24 win over Mwamba RFC on 27th September 2009. Nakuru may still be a work in progress but I like what Owili has done so far.However,I still fear that the loss of Vincent Mose to Impala may slow down the Nakuru charge.
John Onyango, the Mwamba RFC coach is happy to play the Kenya Cup with a full compliment of players. "Kulabu" have suffered whenever Humphery Khayange, Collins Injera, Lavin Asego and Horace Otieno are away on duty for Shujaa, the Kenya Sevens Team. Their 0-33 loss to Impala during the Floodlit semis best illustrates this point. With adeqaute depth, Mwamba could challenge for league honors but it will honestly be difficult for them to sustain a push for the title.
Strathmore overcame a Kenya Cup debut in 2008 by ably competing and managing to finish in sixth position. Mitch Ocholla's young side could only get better if kept together. Realistically speaking, they are NOT going to win the Kenya Cup but will give rugby fans some good games. The "Leos" provided twelve players and the coach to Chipu,the Kenyan under 20 side that finshed fourth at the recently concluded IRB Junior Rugby World Trophy in Nairobi and it would be interesting to see how this group of players acquit themselves as the Kenya Cup progresses.
Mean Machine RFC once ruled Kenyan rugby when the likes of Edward Rombo, Eric Kibe and George Adul turned out for the University of Nairobi side. Their battles for supremacy with the grand old club of Kenyan rugby, Nondescripts RUFC were legendary.
Sadly, these two sides have over the past decade gradually sunk to mid table oblivion. Machine have Shujaa coach Benjamin Ayimba and it would be interesting to see what the former Kenya Cup winning Impala RFC skipper can do for the side.
Nondies, coached by Paul Odera have just returned from a pre-season tour of Uganda and it would be interesting to see how the former multiple champions who last won the Kenya Cup in 1997 cope in this year's league. They gave a good account of themselves in their quarter final loss to Quins at the 2009 Impala Floodlits and will be looking to do better than their second from bottom placing in 2008. Can this crop of players relive the glory days of Paul Keir,Pip Omamo,David and Peter Francombe? Let us wait and see.
As the 2009 Kenya Cup gets underway, lets fill the stands as we support our clubs and Kenyan rugby in general.
Alluring magnet of politics is still a mystery in Kenya - In essence, people will demand development (rightfully so) plus tonnes or handouts.
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