Strathmore Leos: Waking Up the Sleeping Giants
The idea of Strathmore Leos as a force to reckon with in the Kenya Cup is alien to recent fans – but under Coach Louis Kisia, there is optimism coursing through the resurgent rugby club.
There are few coaches in the world better at reviving teams, and indeed entire clubs, through inspirational coaching, meticulous preparation and pure force of will. Much of the last two years has seen Strathmore merely exist for the entertainment of others, rather than their own fans – pointing to tight decisions and howlers across the team. But after these two tumultuous years of despair, the Leos are now battling “the big boys” to the Kenya Cup title thanks to a remarkable transformation overseen by a former Mwamba player. Louis ‘Fathee’ Kisia is finally waking up the sleeping giant of Kenyan rugby.
The outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 interrupted competitive rugby matches and delayed the return of the Strathmore Leos to the first division. The wait for a glorious top flight return had to go on as many empty streets led to crowded receptions and emergency rooms calling for the postponement of all sporting activities till early 2021.
And 13th February, 2021 saw a lot of joyful endings to the relegation despair.
For once through the game, Strathmore Leos fell three points behind to Tony Fidel’s conversion. They picked themselves up off the canvas to land a right hand of their own and defeat the Northern Suburbs 23-6 in the championship playoffs. Although Fidel converted once more to earn 3 more points for the Suburbs, it was not enough to earn them a win. Both Arnold Muita and Philemon Olang’ touched down the try line to earn Strathmore Leos 10 points. Andrew Matoka stepped up to boot the Leos twice and converted three penalties to put Strathmore Leos on the correct end, a 23-6 scoreboard – earning them promotion back to the Kenya Cup.
The stands of Lang’ata Road have not been as full as they are now since the days of those championship playoffs in February. Rugby, which was for so long an issue few of the Strathmore Leo fans engaged with outside of heading the odd home game once or twice a season, has risen once more to the top of many agendas around Madaraka.
With Western Bulls and Kisumu RFC being axed from the Kenya Cup during the 2019-20 season after finishing in the bottom two positions, Strathmore Leos earned a chance to emulate the likes of Kabras in re-joining the Kenya Cup’s top sides to make the top flight league a better division. On their return, inspirations will also be drawn from their famous 2013 Kenya Cup runners-up squad, but with an ambition to clinch the title after suffering a 37-3 defeat to Nakuru RFC 8 years ago.
How would Louis Kisia fare in the Kenya Cup?
Strathmore Leos finally look ready to go the distance. Players who are willing to buy into Kisia’s philosophy have already been sought through annual trials at the Strathmore Sports Complex in Madaraka. This sublime recruitment strategy is to ensure the Leos can boast of a rock-solid defence which takes no prisoners and a team which is known as much, if not more, for their fiery character as their prodigious scoring ability. So far, despite various challenges, Kisia has still managed to mastermind the Leos long-awaited resurgence in the Kenyan Cup.
Encouraging early signs
While the bankers and sugar men seemed to have already found their feet in this season’s Kenya Cup, Strathmore Leos looked a different team. Toppling the top sides that have been created into winning machines will be extremely difficult. However, suggestions that they can mix with the big boys for the next couple of seasons have already been made.
They finished among the top four sides who were guaranteed a place in the semi-finals just six months after their first season of promotion. And for the first time in two years, Kabras and KCB faced a battle for supremacy in the Kenyan Cup from a familiar usurper as Kisia’s revitalised Leos were making a legitimate push for the title. However, a 39-19 loss in the semis to the sugar men at the Nandi Bears golf course brought an end to the campaign.
In spite of Strathmore Leo’s captain’s optimistic belief in the quality of the team before the semi-final clash, Gabriel Adero’s team-mates have a few notches to climb before they have all the pieces fall into place for the generation of considerable talent that deserves to claim the Kenyan Cup crown. The two defeats to Kabras, the lead that was squandered against KCB and the 30-24 frustration against Impala Saracens at Impala Club in Nairobi in a mid-week Kenya Cup match to Impala suggested just that.
On the afternoon of 27th February, the bankers were cruising to another routine victory but the Leos were not going to be an easy nut to crack. Rhodes Ambale’s try converted by Arnold Muita gave Strathmore a score to clutch onto heading to the break 16 – 12 lead ahead of the Bankers. However, the rare lead by Leos was scrapped in the second half of the mach. The Leos were not ruthless enough and failed to take their chances to put this game out of reach for the bankers. KCB rugby claimed victory at the end of the proceedings.
A total of 4 wins, 4 losses and 2 draws were registered at the end of the 2020/2021 campaign with an accumulated 27 points to earn Kisia’s men an overall 3rd spot in the Kenya Cup standings. These results have lifted the atmosphere at the club, but the club has not shown their strongest qualities yet over the course of that period.
Long suffering supporters will hope this will mark an end to their short era in the wilderness. Few tears will be shed and rightly so.
This article was written by Nick Ongeri, Sports Administrator.
What’s your story? We’d like to hear it. Contact us via email@example.com.