Kenya Cup has been the dominant and most popular rugby league backed by a huge following across the country but the 2019-2020 Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) premier competition has provided a new ray of excitement rarely witnessed in the past years.
The second-tier rugby league has provided fans with entertaining and competitive results, which has seen the rise of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST RFC) club among the top teams in the western region in the past three years.
MMUST, as they are popularly known, has already put up their best performance of the two seasons they have been in the championship.
The university students are in contention for promotion to Kenya Cup next year for the first time after finishing second last season in Union’s championship.
MMUST registered 15 wins out of 16 in what was their best ever season amassing 67 points. The Kakamega based side booked a home semi final play off spot, which they need to win to book a ticket to the 2021 Kenya Cup.
However, while the players have celebrated their achievement on the pitch, one man has faded off the stage to toast to their victories alone. Meet assistant coach John Asila, the man who is the fulcrum upon which MMUST RFC’s good shows revolves. He has no doubt produced sterling performance.
Nicknamed ‘Ndovu’ because of his physique, Asila serves in the management team of the university rugby side and has overseen the transition of the team from being a regular Nationwide League regular to contesting for promotion in country’s top flight league, the Kenya Cup.
Coming from a region dominated by rugby teams that include Western Bulls, Kabras Sugar, Vihiga RFC, Kakamega High and St Peters Mumias, Asila wades into the current form saying it was never a walk in the park as they have had to dig deep for their development and wins.
“A dream does not become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work. For us in MMUST, together with the technical bench, we have worked hard for the past six years to be where we are,” he said.
“We have sacrificed a lot to build a strong and competitive team and I cannot be proud of what we are about to achieve, have an opportunity to play in Kenya Cup.”
Asila joined MMUST six years ago while the team was playing in the Nationwide League and it took them four years to make their debut in the Championship in 2018.
“During the 2017-18 season, we qualified for championship after going through the whole season unbeaten,” said the former Vihiga coach.
In their maiden season in the championship, MMUST finished fifth in a star-studded league that comprised Kisumu RFC, Western Bulls, Catholic Monks and USIU RFC.
Unfortunately, their dream of qualifying for the Kenya Cup went up in smoke after being knocked out by winners Kisumu RFC in the quarter final play offs.
“We did not give up despite going out at a time we were enjoying good form. I believed we could make it and I am glad the boys stayed positive the following season,” said the 40-year-old.
The 2019-20 season saw the relegation of Kenya Cup sides Mean Machine of University of Nairobi and Strathmore Leos, who were viewed as stronger sides and contenders for the two promotion slots. But they got a rude shock.
MMUST came out as one of the strongest sides in the championship this season, beating Mean Machine in their backyard before losing their only match of the regular season to eventual table toppers Strathmore Leos.
“It was not easy. This season we gave it all and I am glad that the boys came through at a time when we most needed the wins,” he said.
He believes MMUST will qualify for the Kenya Cup next season if sports resume in the country after the coronavirus pandemic decimated the season, which had reached play off stages.
“I am confident MMUST will make it to the top league. When things return to normal, I believe we will pick from where we left,” he said.
MMUST will face the winner of the quarter final match between Mean Machine and Egerton Wasps in the semis with the winner securing promotion to Kenya Cup.
Asila started playing rugby at Kakamega High in early 2000 before turning out for Ulinzi RFC for three years later. He also played for the defunct Kakamega RFC and Western Bulls where he hang his boots and picked up coaching.
He was national under 19 assistant coach between 2011 to 2012 and Development Rugby Officer of Western region for a year.