Guest columnist Peter Ndonga shares his 12 players to look out for in 2017.
Happy new year guys, 2017 is finally here and with it, comes a lot of promise for Kenya Rugby. Top of that list is definitely the Africa cup which will determine where we stand heading to the Rugby World cup qualifiers in 2018.
Of immediate importance, will be the 2018 Women’s Sevens World cup qualifiers and probably winning another sevens title at the world series.
In the local scene, we have the usual bag of exciting goodies from the Kenya Cup, Sevens series a revamped Safari Sevens (yes) and the host of other tournaments that fall in between.
For the players the new year is yet another opportunity to further improve on their performances and break into the next level.
It is some of these players that we will be highlighting in this post, one from each Kenya cup club who, to me, hold the greatest potential to break into the limelight in 2017.
1. Roxy Dan Suchi – Kenya Harlequins.
Position – Lock.
Late in 2015, Kabras Sugar unveiled a giant of a lad when they took on Mwamba at the Railway club in that 20 all draw. The six foot plus frame was a first half substitute and it took a lot of convincing to accept that he was only 19 then.
That towering figure was that of Roxy Suchi later made it to the Chipu squad in 2016 and went on to join the Kenya Harlequins later that year. Roxy has been ticking all the right boxes since he made that move.
Roxy in action!
He made his full Kenya Cup debut for the Quin against Nondies on match day four, having started on the bench against Strathmore and Homeboyz. He also played through the Quins Floodies campaign.
Armed with a devastating ball carry and an equally crunching tackle, Roxy is set to be an instant hit in 2017 and with the likes of Tony Mutai and Kevin Umbuge around him, who knows maybe a shot at the Simbas squad.
2. Mohamed Omollo – Impala
Position – Utility Half Back.
My most vivid memory of Mohammed Omollo this far, was during last season’s Kenya cup when the Sarries hosted KCB and within the first few minutes star man Nato Simyu was stretchered off. At this point, most reckoned that Impala’s goose was cooked.
Up stepped Moha at 10 and within the first 10-15 minutes of his introduction, the KCB fans were seen asking around as to whether Nato was fit enough to come back. Moha was a joy to watch at 10, pulling the strings with exquisite precision. It goes without saying that Impala went on to win that match.
When Moha destroyed KCB. (Photo : Impala)
The diminutive play maker who can comfortably slot in at either scrum half or fly half is my tough pick from an Impala side that is bubbling with young talent, the likes of Rainer Omondi, Mark Kwemoi, Paul Mutsami, Ian Mabwa and Robin Kiplagat.
His game awareness, distribution coupled with a deft step and a quality boot are what set him apart from his peers.
3. James Kilonzo – KCB
Position – Outside Center/Wing.
Probably one of the more illustrious picks in this list, having played through the 2015-16 season with the Lions. He joined the club from the Catholic Monks right after the departure of Fabian Olando from the den and slotted in perfectly, making the 13 jersey his.
With a solid season behind him, 2017 looks locked and loaded for the younger Kilonzo, who is in the same position his big brother Peter was in sometime in 2014-15. Peter went on to break the ranks, earning national call ups in both the 7s and 15s codes. Who knows, James might even go a step further.
James is a dream outside center, he packs the strength, speed and agility to go past any defence, most importantly however he can defend that 13 channel resolutely.
Apart from James, KCB has the likes of Collins Nato, Mutuota Kamau who joined the club recently from USIU, Griffin Musila and Nelson Nyandat.
4. Gabriel Adero – Strathmore Leos.
Position – Backrow.
The Kenya U-19 captain has been in fine form for the Leos, especially after the mass exodus at the close of the season.
Gabbie is poised to follow in the immediate former Chipu captain Tyson Okoth who has gone on to solidify his place at his club side, Impala.
Gabbie giving several Impala players something to think about.
Gabriel brings to the table some mean grit and can play across the back row, armed with a devastating tackle and ball carrying brute. On his day he is almost unplayable, one of those performances earned him a slot in our Floodies dream team, beating players almost twice his age and experience.
Under the wing of Kenya Simbas captain Brian Nyikuli, there is no telling how far Adero will go in 2017.
5. Briden Sande Anditi – Mwamba.
Position – Winger/Fullback.
Perhaps the brightest star out of Mwamba RFC, the fact that he is currently the league’s top try scorer underlines that statement.
For a back, especially a winger there could be no better teacher than one Collins Injera, Anditi seems to be learning a lot from the record breaking try scorer. Watching him make his 15s debut at last year’s Floodies against Quins, you could see he was a special player.
Anditi on his way to his first try at the Floodies. (Photo: Impala)
He got off the try scoring mark the very next weekend against Homeboyz, since then he has gone over the chalk 6 times. Like most players in this list, Sande plays well above his age, what makes his case special is that this is his first season in the top flight.
If he carries on in this form Sande will surely follow in the footsteps of the Chu chu train.
6. Monate Akuei – Nakuru RFC.
Position – Lock/Backrow.
He is probably the closest thing I have seen to KCB’s Oliver Mangéni in quite a while. Apart from a similar lanky dark frame, Monate is also quite exceptional at the line out.
Monate is a typical Mnyore, packing a crunching tackle and can play at either lock or back row, he made his debut at the sevens series, meaning he also has the skill and flair to go with the brute.
Monate in action against KCB. (Photo – Mid-Ego Fotography)
He definitely has in store what it takes to break into the limelight from this Wanyore side, alongside the likes of Charlton Mokua, Henry Ayah and Cyprian Imbuga, the Wanyore can be assured that their future is in good hands.
7. Edwin Wafula – Homeboyz RFC.
Position – Utility Back.
The Djs always seem to be beaming with young prospects at every turn, Jeff Oluoch, Alvin Otieno, Bush Mwale, Kevin Maasai and now it looks like it is time for Edwin Wafula.
The utility back who can play at half back and full back, has been on a steady rise for the DJs. He has so far made three appearances in the Kenya cup at fly half, scoring 15 points off the boot.
Edwin Wafula from a while back.
He is in good company at Homeboyz with the likes of Haroun Lubisia, Michael Wanjala, Humphrey Owuor, Kelvin Maasai, Augustine Lughonzo, Tony Onyango, Leonard Mugaisi and Oscar Ayodi to look up to.
Also from the Djs watch out for Nelson Sangura, Philip Ikambili and Brian Sogoi.
8. Moses Begi – Blak Blad.
Position – Utility Back
The man who almost opened a phone shop thanks to his displays on the pitch. Towards the end of the year 2016, Moses Begi won 3 phones in the space of 3 months, 1 at the Kabeberi sevens the other 2 at Floodies.
The pocket rocket dazzled with his blistering pace and eye for the line, on his way to claiming the overall top try scorer at the Kabeberi 7s. He was in similar form in the longer version a few weeks later, with Man of the match performances on day 2 and 3 of Floodies.
The Begi rocket about to take off.
His diminutive stature might fool many but his sheer grit and bags of pace usually take many by surprise. These traits making him a true utility for Blad as he can also play across the back line from outside center to full back.
Off the back of such performances, Begi is now poised to break through in 2017, alongside the likes of Levy Amunga, the current Kenya cup top points scorer, and a Blak Blad side that is out to raffle feathers.
9. Brian Tonya – Kabras.
Position – Lock
The 23 year old Lock came up more than once in my conversations with the Western folk, I first took note of him playing at last year’s Great Rift ten-a-side and what a beast he was, still is really.
He is no small boy.
Tonya or Jump as he is referred to can also play in the sevens code, having played for the sugar millers in the last two sevens circuits, it is however in the fifteens where he is most devastating. With a string of great performances so far, it is expected that Tonya will breakout in 2017.
Alongside the likes Nobert lumbwani, Hillary Odhiambo, and Ivan Chirabo, Kabras have a legion of young explosive players ready to burst onto the scene.
10. Alfred Orege- Mean Machine.
Position – Winger
Orege is not a new name for a keen follower of local rugby, having had a stint at Mwamba before making the shift to Machine. Under John Mbai, Alfred has now become a key player for the Eschuma.
Seremala on his way.. (Photo Ministry of Rugby)
Seremala as he is fondly referred to, packs a decent hit for his size and bags of pace to throw around. Orege has played in every game so far for Machine, including the impressive 1 point loss to Kabras, he was also part of the sevens sides to the series and the recently concluded East Africa games.
With Orege alongside the likes of Shadon Munoko, Clinton Munyasa and Richard Alai, add to that list the upcoming duo of Henry Rabac and Victor Shavia, Eschuma looks like it will be making big strides towards returning to former glories this year.
11. Evin Asena – Western Bulls.
Position – Fly Half
After the rapid departures of notably Davis Chenge, Elkeans Musonye and Brian Bango the mantle of the Echulusi has fallen to one Evin Asena.
Oyah, DSP hapo kwa Nick. (Photo – Western Bulls)
Asena has been part of the Bulls set up for some time now and while those departures have dented the club, Asena has been among the brightest silver linings. At fly half he leads his charges majestically by example, knowing when to take it up to the line and when to pass it on, to devastating effect.
Alongside the likes of Mike Ligono, Kelvin Juma and Duncan Abuyeka the Echulusi might be down but not out. Watch out for Asena in the coming year, he might just be the next bull on the move to the capital.
12. Benjamin Marshall – Nondies.
Position – Center/Wing.
‘Poghie you just have to come see this new Nondies kid..he is an absolute beast!’ read a text I got earlier on in 2016, the kid in question was Benji Marshall.
Those who don’t know him, Benji is a Manu Tulagi/Mathieu Bastareaud like center, he actually looks a lot like the latter. Barely 20 years old he is built like a tank with the wheels of a Ferrari.
Ngojea hapo nakuja.
He first made his mark on the Kenya Cup when Nondies faced Impala in February of last year since then, he received a call up to the U-19 side and has gone on to impress multiple times.
2017 holds a lot of promise for Benji if he can consistently replicate his performances from last year, who knows, a call up to the Simbas training squad might be in the offing.
Apart from Benji look out also for Eric Ombachi, who also plays at center and wing, deceptively slim but a real hard worker.
We have only barely scratched the surface with these names, there are tonnes of other talented hard working players, who are bubbling under and will indeed get their big shot this year.
To them I say, keep working hard and when that chance comes grab it by the…
Here is to a great 2017.
*This post first appeared on osbke.com