The Kenya Simbas had a tough year when they nearly missed the Currie Cup, suffered Victoria Cup heartbreak before they saved themselves from embarrassment with Elgon Cup victory
In what was a Rugby World Cup year that Kenya took no part in again, the Simbas who had missed out narrowly on a place at the tournament in 2022 showed why they watched it from home in 2023.
It was not just lack of finances that affected their programme but also their topsy-turvy performances left a lot to be desired.
The Simbas started their year in April with the invitational Currie Cup, christened Mzansi Challenge, which was largely played in South Africa.
They nearly missed the tournament owing to financial challenges and only a threat to kick them out of subsequent editions saw them make a late dash to South Africa, missing their first two games against the Boland Kavaliers and the Leopards.
Their start was not great, however, as they lost 33-22 San Clemente Rhinos, having arrived a day before the match, and followed it up with a 18-7 defeat to Eastern Province.
Jerome Paarwater’s men recorded their first win when they silenced Border Bulldogs 30-26 before adding Zimbabwe Goshawks, who they beat 48-7 in Nakuru, to their list of casualties but earlier problems resurfaced, as they failed to honour their matches against Valke and SWD Eagles.
Kenya Simbas finished eighth in the Mzansi Challenge with the last two missed matches seeing Namibia’s Windhoek Draught Welwitschias leapfrog them from seventh spot on the 10-team log on 12 points.
Victoria Cup heartache
In November, Kenya Simbas embarked on twin assignments as the Victoria and Elgon Cups returned for the first time since 2019.
The Victoria Cup was somewhat watered down this time due to the absence of Zimbabwe with Kenya, Uganda and Zambia taking part.
Kenya saw off Zambia 36-12 to set up a title showdown with neighbours Uganda in Kampala and it is here that their strengths and weaknesses were exposed.
After starting well, they handed Uganda the initiative largely due to unnecessary fouls, that yielded plenty of penalties for their opponents while ill-discipline also cost them as they had two men sin-binned during the encounter.
Handling errors and a lapse in concentration are the other things that affected them and they paid dearly when Uganda scored a penalty at the death to snatch a 21-20 victory after Kenya came close to claiming the title that they last won in 2010.
Elgon Cup redemption
Simbas benefited greatly from the return of South African coach Paarwater who teamed up with Kabras Sugar’s Carlos Katywa and KCB tactician Curtis Olago.
Paarwater was absent in Kampala but he was back in time for the decisive Elgon Cup return match in Kisumu with the Victoria Cup title decider having acted as the tournament’s opener.
The tacticians rung the changes for the second leg and benefited from an improved performance as Kenya won 20-13 in Kisumu, and 40-34 on aggregate, to make it five straight titles and reassert their regional dominance.
Heading into 2024, it is hoped that Paarwater, Katywa and Olago will come up with a formula for sustained success as Kenya targets qualification for the 2027 Rugby World Cup.