The first top-flight rugby game in Kenya in almost a year was played on Saturday as Kabras Sugar RFC defeated Kenya Harlequins at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi to win the Sisimka Charity Cup.
The sport had been suspended in March last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and resumed earlier this month following clearance by the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture.
The match was a high-quality one despite the 11-month layoff. Kabras overcame an early setback to thump their opponents 29-10 and seal a convincing victory in the inaugural competition.
The match was played under strict COVID-19 health protocols with no fans in attendance. In addition to that, temperature checks were taken, players and staff observed physical distancing, stewards were on hand to ensure observance of the protocols and match balls were regularly disinfected.
Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) chairman Oduor Gangla welcomed the return of the sport which he said had suffered significantly from the effects of the pandemic.
“Despite the lack of game time, it has been a steep learning curve for them (players). All our other competitors have been playing since about July last year. So, we are quite behind the curve in that respect,” Gangla said.
“Our income dropped very significantly because sponsors were saying there is no rugby, plus even we are significantly affected, so everyone cuts back. So, it has been quite challenging, even getting back the return to play.”
“But I am very happy and even the players, I think, you noticed, were quite happy to get back and just express themselves.”
He also praised the players, who despite not being competitively active for several months, put on a good show for fans who watched the game via livestream through a local media house.
“You can only get match fitness by playing a game. We will start slowly. If you look at Australia or even South Africa, when they resumed, the games were pretty slow, you saw a lot of players struggled with fitness. This will be no different. Every season is the same; you start off slowly and you keep building it up.” he added.
Even though only a handful of games have been played so far, Gangla said he had no worries about conditioning concerns surrounding the players.
The 2021 Kenya Cup season is scheduled to kick off on February 27 with the semi-finals and final being played on May 22 and May 29, respectively.