Rugby is taking on a regional look with Ugandan players now playing for a Kenyan team.
Western Kenya-based Kabras Sugar, which won the Nationwide League in the 2013/2014 season, has signed on four players from former Ugandan champions MTN Heathens.
Coach Arthur Shikwe has brought on board Ezekiel Okou (flanker), Cyrus Watum (hooker) Charles Uhuru (lock) and fly half Jasper Ochen. Kabras Sugar also hopes to sign utility back Philip Wokorachi, who is currently playing for Uganda Kobs, having left Heathens.
The new players featured for Kabras Sugar played Kenya cup champions Nakuru and former champions Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in the Kenya Cup openers. They lost both matches.
Uganda Kobs have asked for $11,300 in transfer fees but Kabra Sugar said they can’t afford it with the game still at amateur level. “We will still pursue him, but if the club refuses, we will leave it,” said Shikwe.
Wokorachi played for Kabras Sugar during the Dala, Driftwood and Christie Sevens legs of the National Sevens Series that ended in September.
Kenya Harlequins has also signed on foreigners: Cameroonians Ernest Ngong and Stephan Ottou, and Tom Ingham from the UK.
Why did Kabra Sugar cross the border in search of players?
Shikwe said their sponsors were looking to attract quality players to the Kenya Cup.
“The sponsors have invested a lot of money in the team,” said Shikwe. “Trying to get players locally brought about bad blood with some local clubs.”
Kabras Sugar has invested $337,100 in the 2014/2015 season.
Shikwe said the club wanted to sign Kenyan international backs Nick Barasa and Edwin Achayo from Harlequins.
“They were not ready to release them and that is why we went to Uganda,” he said. “We offered the players employment, as well as paying for their school fees, but their club gave them a similar offer.”
Shikwe, a former international forward, also signed four players from his former club, Kenya Commercial Bank. They are forwards Dennis Mukabi, Geoffrey Meso, and Polycarp Odhiambo and winger/centre Steve Owuor.
Shikwe said they hope to reach the semi-final play-offs this season and make a statement. “We shall give all the top teams a run for their money,” said Shikwe. “I have a strong team but what we want to address now is bonding and jelling.”
Kabras chairman Raymond Olendo said $90,000 has been set aside for a modern gymnasium, with a high performance training camp also being planned next to the sugar factory in Webuye.
The club has offered to pay Uhuru’s college fees of $1,012 annually at Mount Kenya University where he is a first year information technology student. They are also paying college fees for Okou and Watum at the Shigalagala Technical Institute.
Uhuru, 22, said he is in Kenya to gain experience since the league is more competitive than Uganda’s. “Uganda’s league has eight teams while Kenya has 14, hence more game time and exposure,” he said.
After two matches, Uhuru believes Kabras Sugar have tested the waters. “We lost to two top teams in Kenya so we know what to do in the next match,” said Uhuru.
Olendo said they intend to adopt schools in the region and incorporate them in their training programmes. “We are building a strong under-19 team for the coming years,” he said.
He added that they want to be the first team from Western Kenya to win the Kenya Cup, after their big brothers Nakuru made history as the first club outside Nairobi to win it in 2013 and retain it this year.
“We have brought in some experienced players to bolster the players who played for us in the nationwide league, and the players are keen to perform at the top level,” said Olendo.