Embracing the transition: Former Kenya Simbas star Oliver Mang'eni relishing new coaching role

Embracing the transition: Former Kenya Simbas star Oliver Mang'eni relishing new coaching role

Mark Kinyanjui 09:30 - 07.05.2024

Mang'eni has successfully embraced coaching, and is currently in charge of the Lions at the ongoing Rugby Super Series

Oliver ‘Olishe’ Mang’eni wowed fans and analysts alike during his days as a lock for KCB, Kenya Simbas, Kenya Sevens and the Lions

The 36-year-old used to produce performances that would leave people begging for more during a time when Kenyan rugby was at its peak from 2009 till 2015,  and there was always the Rugby Super Series to look forward to following the completion of the Kenya Cup.

Unfortunately, it would have to take until almost a decade later for the tournament to make its return. Mang’eni would surely have wished he had played at the tournament more during his peak years before retirement.

He is glad the tournament has returned, but deep down, you get the feeling that he would have wished to be part of it as a player. He is not one to cry over spilt milk, actually embracing his new role.

“It has been smooth thanks to my club. They looked at me and thought ‘this guy can help move rugby to the next level and it has been smooth.

“I just thank the club and the people who have given me this opportunity.”

Normally, a coach is tasked with delivering results else face the sack. It is a general culture in Kenyan sports, not just in rugby, but football and more. However, Mang’eni is not in it for the results but rather, to churn out the next big superstars that could help Kenya qualify for its maiden Rugby World Cup in 2027.

“I want to see the transformation of a player from what they are at the moment to something even better. That is my joy as a coach.”

At the time this interview was conducted, Mang’eni had just overseen his Lions obliterate the Rhinos -incidentally the most successful side in the history of the tournament -.

Unsurprisingly, the opening leg did not pull large numbers back to the RFUEA grounds, and you could not blame them, especially considering the rather sorry state of the climate, and the effects it has had on the facilities.

The muddy state of the pitch at the heart of East African rugby left a lot to be desired, and the teams naturally did not produce optimal performances, with there being a tendancy  by all the teams to attempt drop kick balls in the others’ halves. 

Unideal conditions to ideally launch your coaching career as the head of a franchise. Although a couple of co-oporates have still come in to sponsor the event, it is nowhere close to how money-minting the tournament was commercially ten years ago. 

“When we used to play from 2010 to 2014, we used to have a lot of sponsorship coming in.Bamburi was the title sponsor. Each Franchise had more than three sponsors.

“When I last played for Lions, we used to call ourselves, we had companies UAP and KCB supporting us then and there was a lot of money then.

"Now we are struggling financially and now it is time to call upon these comrades to come in and support the talent that is coming up.”

The Lions will be facing the Cheetahs this weekend in Nakuru as they seek to maintain their winning start but know it will not be easy, considering the franchise, which consists of players that come from Nakuru.

They will be full of confidence after they overcame Western-based Buffaloes in Nairobi, but Mang’eni does not fear them, especially with the return of some players from the Chipu side who helped Kenya reclaim the Barthes Cup.

“We are going to sit down and review the game. A number of players are looking to get a run with the team. We have the U20 boys who have rested enough. 

“There are Simbas players who need to be seen by their technical bench too. We will look at all this and determine who is ready to play against the Cheetahs,” concludes Mang’eni.