Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) RFC is determined to reclaim its position in the Kenya Cup after being relegated from the top-tier rugby league last season.
Despite a mass exodus of players to established Kenya Cup clubs, the John 'Papa' Asila-led side remains optimistic of restoring its lost glory.
The team faced a challenging season in 2022-2023, finishing at the bottom of the Kenya Cup standings, which led to their relegation. This setback prompted many players to leave for more seasoned clubs, but MMUST is undeterred and aims to prove doubters wrong.
Asila, a guiding force for the team, is confident that MMUST will start the 2023-2024 Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Championship strongly.
Their opening match against newly promoted Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) at the Kakamega Showgrounds on Saturday is crucial.
Asila emphasises the importance of securing a big win to boost the team's morale for the demanding season ahead.
"We want to kick the season with a big win, which I believe will give the team a boost ahead of the grueling season," says Asila, expressing his optimism for the upcoming challenges.
Acknowledging the challenges faced by the team, Asila expressed gratitude to the MMUST administration, led by the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, for their unwavering support in both academics and sports.
The head coach believes in the potential of his young team and sees the departures of players like Abdon Jada, Erick Cantona, Reinard Ngaira, William Muhanji, Griffin Chao, Lameck Ambetsa, Isaiah Mulongo, and Timothy Mumasi (USA) as a source of pride for the institution.
Notably, Ambetsa, Muhanji, and Mumasi are established players featuring regularly in national team setups, including Kenya Sevens and Kenya Simbas.
However, Asila insists on the importance of education, urging departing players to complete their studies as it will prove valuable in their future endeavors.
"Education will come in handy later on in their lives," remarked Asila, underlining the dual commitment to academic and athletic excellence.
To strengthen their squad for the Championship, MMUST has brought in six young players namely Ian Oduor, Kevin Bukhala, Clarence Hope, Churchill Oyugi, Daniel Mukambi, and Paywick Munoko.
Additionally, first-year students have joined on scholarships, showcasing MMUST's commitment to nurturing young talent.
The MMUST RFC story is one of resilience and determination, marked by a rapid rise from lower leagues to the cusp of Kenya Cup qualification.
Few might remember that MMUST played a pivotal role in the formation of Western Bulls and Kabras Sugar, with the latter going on to win the Kenya Cup in 2016, becoming only the second club outside Nairobi to achieve this feat after Nakuru RFC.
The journey began in 2012 when MMUST merged with Kakamega Rugby Club to form Western Bulls. This strategic move, encouraged by then Kenya Rugby Union chairman Mwangi Muthee, aimed to create a formidable team representing Western Kenya in the top tier league. Despite subsequent reassembles and partnerships, MMUST remained committed to its goal of joining the elite ranks of Kenyan rugby.
In 2018, MMUST gained promotion to the KRU Championship, setting the stage for their journey toward Kenya Cup qualification. Despite a setback in their maiden season, where they were knocked out by Kisumu RFC in the quarter-final playoffs, MMUST remained undeterred.
The 2019-20 season saw MMUST emerging as one of the strongest sides in the championship, beating Mean Machine in their backyard and narrowly losing to Strathmore Leos.
In 2021, MMUST made history by defeating the University of Nairobi's Mean Machine 21-12, becoming the first Western region university to qualify for the Kenya Cup.
The team's journey from the lower ranks to the pinnacle of Kenyan rugby showcases their determination and commitment to excellence.
As MMUST gears up for the upcoming KRU Championship season, they carry the weight of expectations and aspirations.
The echoes of their past successes and challenges serve as a source of motivation, and under the leadership of coach Asila, the team is poised for a triumphant return to the Kenya Cup.