Matches between National 15s giants Kakamega High and two-time champions Musingu School were a joy to watch during the past two decades.
A meeting between the Kakamega County rivals was full of emotions, entertainment and the 15 players paraded on either team played their hearts out. For a long time, it was regarded by many as the biggest rivalry in the Western region if not the entire country.
2010 may be the last time fans saw the best of this rivalry since Musingu has been on a downward trajectory since then while the Barbarians (Kakamega) have remained competitive, winning five national titles including back-to-back wins between 2011 and 2013. They also enjoyed national glory in 2017 as well as 2019.
The 2010 Western Province (Now Western Region) Term one Rugby 7s games saw the sides face-off in the final and Kakamega emerged victorious thanks to Augustine Lugonzo’s magical step that saw the Barbarians edge Musingu at the Kakamega High grounds. The two rivals proceeded to the national games which Kakamega won, beating Kangaru 17-0 to reclaim the 7s title while Musingu’s run ended at the semi-finals stage after a narrow 7-0 loss to Kangaru.
When they turned their focus to the longer version of the game, Kakamega were keen to become the first-ever side to bag both 15s and 7s titles in the same year. The Barbarians were also seeking to become the first side to win the East African title three times in a row having won it in 2008 and 2009.
13 of the 15 members of the starting squad plus head coach Ochieng Ahaya were departing, so they were eager to leave on a high. Though the provincial games were staged at Chavakali High School which was not a favourable venue for Kakamega, they were pumped with belief and the desire to travel to the Coast which has always been a good hunting ground for them.
As Ahaya’s charges travelled 21.6 km to Chavakali in neighbouring Vihiga County, there was a general feeling within the team that they would reign supreme. So much was their confidence that a host of players bought clothes in advance to use on beaches at the Coast once the team qualified for the national event.
For Musingu, they were keen to avenge the 7s defeat, return to the national 15s games and reclaim the title they had last won in 2008. The trip to Mombasa was also a motivation for them and they had a clear plan to beat Kakamega to the only ticket reserved for the region.
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As largely expected, both sides, who went to the event as outright favourites, bullied their opponents en route to the decider where there was plenty at stake.
On the D-day, cheering squads were sent by respective schools to offer support to the sides early in the morning. There was singing, dancing and the two factions clashed before the match started, leaving some members injured.
The coaches had their pep talks, the warm-up was done, the respective school anthems were sang and the day’s referee Vincent Barasa blew the whistle for action. Few minutes into the game, Kakamega’s Kevin Alfayo beat Musingu defence after a forward contest and he scored the opening try of the match which Lugonzo failed to convert despite having been impressing on kicks in the whole tournament.
Musingu had their share of chances and moments of dominance in the clash. Centre Kelvin Kingwa drilled in one penalty to trim the gap and later added the second penalty which was deemed controversial by Kakamega.
The Barbarians claimed one of the Touch Judges behind the posts did not raise his flag to confirm that the penalty conversion had hit the target but the centre referee awarded three points which saw Musingu lead 6-5.
For the first time in the competition, Kakamega had fallen behind and everyone was waiting to see how they would respond. Would they crumble under pressure and lose the bragging rights or they would recover?
Both defences were tight and presumably the reason why Musingu opted to use penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Mike Ligono who was one of the top performers in the clash told Scrummage that determination to avoid another upset after 7s disappointment was the reason behind their strong challenge.
“It was a rivalry and they had outclassed us in 7s. We were determined as a team not to let the 15s title evade us,” he said.
Chomoka, as Musingu team is fondly known, had found a way to keep Kakamega quiet and what had previously seemed to be an unstoppable backline had only five points and were trailing.
In the final 30 minutes, Kakamega dominated possession, gained momentum, produced all their best moves to gain ground, increased the tempo but once they got in their opponents 22m zone, Musingu defended with top-notch discipline and on several occasions, they would either get a turnover and force Kakamega to start all over again.
Oscar Okaron who was Kakamega High’s fullback that day admits Musingu defended well. He also feels that luck was not on their especially after the awarding of the controversial penalty.
“Musingu was a tough side basing their strength on defence. They defended to death despite our many line breaks. They had hard tackles that made the game to be tense. But also luck was not on our side. We scored a try but they had a controversial penalty that made them the winners, the game could have ended 5-3.” OKaron said.
Kakamega players will live to fault their decision making since they had opportunities to take points to regain the lead but they always went for quick taps from penalties in the chase for the elusive five points.
“There was poor decision making especially on penalties. We didn’t take our chances. We had a lot of quick taps that we could convert them into points,” Okaron a former Kabras and Homeboyz revealed.
Whenever they opted for the quick taps, the frustration grew since all their efforts were thwarted. On the touchline, the assistant coaches were trying to shout instructions and the pressure was evident on their faces. Their fans, on the other hand, continued to sing and had the belief that their team would find the breakthrough.
As the 80th minutes drew closer, the barbarians made consistent attacks, each member gave everything but their hard work went unrewarded. The Barbarians were not happy with some of the calls by the centre referee throughout the match. And as they were in Musingu’s territory, the referee ended the match when the players believed that they had one more opportunity to attack. The players could not believe they had lost by one point- margin and the dream to travel to the Coast had been cut short.
Some of the players dropped down in disbelief while others decided to rough up the referee. Before he was whisked away, he had been headbutted and other levels of harassment were meted on him. In the match report, two top players in the team were pinpointed and were banned for some time.
An appeal was immediately lodged since Musingu had fielded a former Kakamega High player, named Emmanuel a move which was against the rules of school competitions which require a student who has transferred to serve a 90-day period before playing for his new side.
Musingu were disqualified after the hearing of the case and this meant that second-placed team would be representing Western in the nationals. Kakamega were, however, also disqualified for their misconduct after the match.
Ligono who is currently working with Kakamega based side Western Bulls says the decision to disqualify Musingu left the entire squad disappointed. He adds that the decision had an impact on the school which has never been the same in matters rugby.
“Yes we were disappointed and I think it had an impact on the school up now, the culture started fading,” he stated.
In the end, a playoff was staged with third and fourth-placed sides meeting. Bungoma High went on to represent Western Province in the nationals.
It was a lesson learned the hard way for the Barbarians and since then, their discipline towards match officials improved drastically in subsequent tournaments.
Musingu School 2010 starting squad: 1.Emmanuel 2.Boniface Ababu 3. Mike Ligono, 5.Billy Arigi, 5.Brian Tabuley, 6. Edward Kwendo, 7Brian Malika, 8.Dennis Khamala, 9.Lincon Murunga, 10. Brian Namsende 11.Patrick Mugenya, 12.Kelvin Kingwa 13. Simon Munyasa 14. Mkongo 15. Kelly Shimenga
Kakamega High 2010 starting squad: 1.John Luova, 2.Peter Misango, 3. Andrew Wekesa (Late), 4.Inyangala/Edwin Abungana, 5. Eugene 6.Kelvin Alfayo, 7. Riddick Okwemba, 8.Adrian Opondo, 9. Marlin Mukolwe, 10. Augustine Lugonzo, 11. Victor Isiye, 12.Mike Agevi 13.Felix Makaya 14.Kepha Abwogi, 15 Oscar Okaron