In sports, the greatest legacies are reserved for those who pioneer their way into stardom.
Coaches and players are remembered in the grandest terms by evaluating their role in changing the course of their respective sports forever.
In Kenya, football clubs Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards boast tremendous decades of following and praise alongside athletics legends Eliud Kipchoge, Kipchoge Keino, David Rudisha, among others.
It’s perhaps strange, then that rugby and Motorsport are often overlooked in Kenya when the greatest era-defining players and clubs are mentioned.
Ironically, whenever you think of Kenyan rugby and rally, Kabras Sugar’s Rugby Football Club and Kabras Sugar Racing team are names that easily come to mind.
The two teams have had exemplary performance in the past decade with their resurgence changing the landscapes in both sports.
Three years after its formation, Kabras Sugar RFC were crowned the Kenya Cup champions in 2016, graced five Kenya Cup finals, won the Kenya national Sevens Circuit in 2017, won the Enterprise Cup in 2019 and the Charity Cup earlier this year.
Currently, Kabras Sugar are top in the 2021 Kenya Cup standings with 15 points after registering massive winning scorelines in their first three matches before the government suspended all sporting activities in March as a measure to curb rising cases of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Kabras thrashed Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) 56-0, hit Strathmore University 35-9 and Kenya Harlequins 43-5 in their opening matches in another strong bid to reclaim the title they last won five years ago.
In rally, Kabras Sugar Racing team had four participants in the recently held Equator Rally in Naivasha.
Tejveer Rai, who is the Managing Director of West Kenya Sugar Company, finished second overall, behind winner Carl Tundo.
In February, the Kabras team dominated the Kenya National Rally Championships (KNRC).
The squad claimed first three positions in Baldev Chager, Tejveer Rai and his brother, Onkar Rai.
Both rugby and racing teams are sponsored by Kabras Sugar, a brand product of West Kenya Sugar Company.
The two sporting sides are steadily becoming influential brands in their own right.
Rai refers Kabras as the future of rugby and rally in Kenya. And with reason.
Speaking to The Standard Sports, Rai said team work, dedication, hard-work, adherence to quality and a strong and love for sports as some of the qualities that drive the sports sides.
“It is always important to understand why you are taking part in any given competition and what you want to achieve, then work towards attaining it,” said Rai.
“Through serious practice, we manage to correct, improve and set realistic targets before any competition. As Kabras Sugar Racing Team, the spirit of team work is what has kept us going.”
He maintained that sometimes as a team player, he fails to meet targets, an occurrence that is unavoidable but working collectively as a team, Kabras have always fought their way to the top.
He hopes the rugby team will win the Kenya Cup trophy after finishing second last season. Players, led by team captain Dan Sikuta, have set their eyes on the prize.
Even though the current season was interrupted, players have maintained their training routines to remain fit as they await resumption of the tournament.
Last week, 15 Kabras Sugar players were named in the provisional national 15s Kenya Simbas squad by head coach Paul Odera, the highest number from any other club.
Joseph Odero, Victor Emmanuel, Eugene Sifuna, Ephraim Oduor, Brian Juma, Kevin Nyongesa, George Nyambua, Dan Sikuta, Barry Robinson, Brian Tanga, Jone Kubu, Derrick Ashiundu, Johnstone Muhanji, Bryceson Adaka and Valerian Tendwa all made the squad, an indication of how influential Kabras has become.
West Kenya Sugar Company has remained steadfast in sponsoring and promoting their players.
“There is a lot of goodwill from the sponsor (Kabras Sugar) to support the team. There is every reason for us to deliver excellent results,” said captain Sikuta.
The company has began an education scholarship programme that targets needy but bright students in the society. Several Kabras Sugar RFC players have already benefitted from the programme.
Kenya Sevens and Simbas international Brian Tanga is one of the beneficiaries of the academic scholarship. Others are Malik Habil, George Nyambua, Aluda Beda, Felix Ayange, Brian Juma, Ben Onyango and Steve Oluoch. According to Beda, having a degree in Bio-Technology, is the best gift he could ever have received.
“I was born in a family that was not well-off. It is through playing rugby that I managed to join university otherwise, due to lack of money, I would not have achieved this dream,” said Beda.
Beda’s star started shining while at Chavakhali High School. He later joined Kabras Sugar RFC and became part of their first team players.
“I am grateful for the club’s policy that insisted I go back to school and offered me the scholarship for four years. I later graduated with a degree in Bio-Technology from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST),” he said.
Nyambua, another founding member of team, graduated with a Diploma in Business Management (Procurement) from MMUST.
“I came in as a boy and I have now grown into a man. The current environment has allowed me to grow beyond the scope of the game,” said the hard-hitting Nyambua.
“All these does not come without sacrifice. Juggling education and rigorous training sessions was not easy because we had long travels over the weekend and I would be fatigued a lot,” Nyambua added.
It’s the same case with Brian Juma, who also has kind words for his sponsors.
“I am playing rugby for Kabras, I earn from it; and I went to school courtesy of company, so it is a blessing,” said Juma.
There are more than 20 Kabras Sugar RFC players currently in various colleges and universities.
Beside academic scholarships, the company has initiated another program dubbed “Cheza na Acre” to help players better prepare for their future. Through this program, each player has been encouraged to buy at least one acre of land and cultivate sugarcane, which complements the farmers’ supply to the factory.
The players either lease the land or they till, while the company supports them through provision of farm inputs.
Shujaa star Sikuta has at planted sugarcane on his five-acre farm in Misikhu, Kakamega.
“As players, we realised that we needed to plan for life after rugby because we are aging and have families as well. When sporting activities were suspended, some players were busy in their farms planting sugarcane,” said Sikuta.
Kabras Rugby coach Mzingaye Nyathi and his assistant Edwin Achayo agree that it is important for the players to plan for their future.
“Yes, we train our players on various issues including planning for the future because one day, they’ll hang their boots and we would not wish to see them suffer for having failed to plan.”