‘Odd Shaped Balls Kenya’: 10 players to watch out for after Impala Floodlit Championship rugby

THE just-concluded 37th edition of the Impala Floodlit Championship rugby will go down as one of the best, in the tournament’s illustrious history, not only for the action on the pitch, but by the sheer numbers it attracted over the three weekends.

What was even more exciting was watching a young crop of players stand up and get noticed. It was almost like a generational change happening right in front of our eyes; like it was at the recent National Sevens series. Credit to the technical benches who gave their younger charges a run out ahead of the 2018/19 regular season.

Among the many lessons the championship taught us ahead of the Kenya Cup season was that the presumed gap between the sides might not be as big as we had earlier placed it. Which makes for very interesting months ahead? Here are some of the young players that caught the eye over the last three weekends:

1. Philemon Olang’ (Strathmore University):

Philemon 'Chinese' Olang' - Strathmore University

Philemon ‘Chinese’ Olang’ – Strathmore University

On first sight you would be forgiven to mistake the man they call “Chinese” for a half back or a winger due to his diminutive stature. Olang’, however proved time and again in the past three weekends, that he could bruise it out with the best back rows in the land. What he lacks in size he more than makes up in sheer speed and an accurate eye for space in any defense line. Alongside his teammates at the Leos they are bound to raffle some feathers this season

2. Martin Oyugi (Mwamba):

Martin Oyugi (right) - Mwamba

Martin Oyugi (right) – Mwamba

Another diminutive character, although this time in the ‘right’ position, the Mwamba scrum half picked up the No. 9 shirt on weekend one and owned it through the tournament. His general command of play and speed of service were exemplary, not mentioning that he was not afraid to mix it up with the big boys. Remember that “stand-off” against KCB’s Oscar Sorano? The battle for the No. 9 shirt will be very interesting at “Kulabu”.

3. Douglas Kahuri (Harlequins):

Douglas Kahuri - Harlequins

Douglas Kahuri – Kenya Harlequins

He made his first team debut for Quins during the Ngong Road “Derby” [with over-the-fence neighbours Impala] and has looked at home ever since. A big fast man by many standards, Kahuri fitted in almost seamlessly alongside Patrice Agunda, his defensive work at this position was exceptional, his ball carrying too caught the eye.

4. Stephen Osumba (KCB):

Stephen Osumba (Kenya Commercial Bank)

Stephen Osumba  – Kenya Commercial Bank

This recent graduate of St Mary’s High School, Yala, jogged onto the Impala turf under the floodlights as an early change at fly half on the first week of the tournament. From this point on “Zola” — as he is fondly known — never looked back; starting at fly half for the eventual champions in the two weekends that followed. His command of the game, deft step, coupled with a boot that many would only dream of, he looks set to give the KCB technical bench a welcome headache when picking who starts in the No. 10 shirt.

5. Joshua Matasi (Impala):

Joshua Matasi - Impala

Joshua Matasi – Impala

The young Impala hooker stepped up in the absence of the regular starters and made a serious case for himself. In a country running out of front rows, it is always great to see a young man with great potential. He seemed to grow with every weekend, accurate with the line out throw and a general work horse, he might just make some of the senior hookers at the club regret missing out on the tournament.

6. Jan Remke (Homeboyz):

Jan Remke - Homeboyz

Jan Remke – Homeboyz

You have to be really good to make the Homeboyz starting lineup at barely 20 years old, especially in such a crucial position as outside center, let alone starting in the two weekends the team played. That is exactly what Remke did. He showed why the technical bench had faith in him, his positioning and general execution of play was well above par in a position we have struggled with as a country for some time now.

7. Shem Joseph (Impala):

Shem Joseph - Impala

Shem Joseph – Impala

He would easily pass for a 29 year old, given his height, but Shem Joseph is barely 23 years and his sheer height makes him a headache for the opposition at any line out, as he rightly proved over the last three weekends. Joseph, like any good lock, is also not afraid to get into the rough, whether with ball in hand or without. Impala might have unearthed a real gem.

8. Isaac Njoroge (Kenya Commercial Bank):

Isaac Njoroge - Kenya Commercial Bank

Isaac Njoroge – Kenya Commercial Bank

In the constantly changing line up that was KCB’s match day 23, Isaac Njoroge was a constant at open wing. Safe on the high ball, blessed with quick pair of legs, a lethal step and no slouch defensively, if his showing during the last three weeks is anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before “Izo” makes his mark not only on this KCB side but the Kenya rugby scene.

9. Elvis Namusasi (Mwamba):

Elvis Namusasi - Mwamba

Elvis Namusasi – Mwamba

It is not every day that you get on as a substitute and go on to pick up the man of the Match-of-the-Match award; let alone on your debut. That is exactly what Namusasi did on the semi final weekend, against Nondescripts, before then he was ‘Ule jamaa wa Mombasa ali itwa Kenya.’ After that showing that earned him a starting berth in the Plate final, he simply became, Namusasi. He is one of those fly-halves who make everything look easy, almost to a point that he might pass off as lazy, his command and vision is exemplary; with a boot to match. He adds to a growing list of young lads who are set to bring back the glory days to “Kulabu”.

10. Samuel Asati (KCB):

Samuel Asati - Kenya Commercial Bank

Samuel Asati – Kenya Commercial Bank

Yes, saved the best for last; another deceptively diminutive character (might have a bias towards these type of players), the eventual 2018 Impala Floodit Championship “Most-Promising-Player” “Tin Tin” as he is fondly known, is a rare complete “Nine”. Apart from Xavier Kipng’etich he is the closest we have seen to the “General” himself,  Peter Mutai, or if, dare say, Aaron Smith.

While Asati’s attacking prowess, turn of speed, control of a game’s pace and sharp eye for a gap is widely known, it is his work at the second line of defence that sets him apart from the rest. Never one to shy away from a tackle and rarely misses. His boot off a breakdown is also as impressive, which has become a rarity on these shores.

On the sidelines of the final with, many quipped that Kenya will be spoilt for choice at No.9 and you bet that Asati is going to be in that mix.

The Floodlit Championships barely scratched the surface. And with already mentioned Xavier Kipng’etich now already a Kenya International, Vincent Onyala, Daniel Taabu, Gabriel Adero, Johnston Olindi, Mohammed Omollo, Manasseh Oduor, Ronnie Omondi, Tyson Okoth, Paul Mutsami and a host of others, who seem like household names already but are not a day over 25 years old, Kenya may be in the middle of a generational change coming.

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