“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” – the story of Edward Rombo and the mark he made & left on Kenyan Rugby

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By Mundia Kamau

Back in the 1970s, 1980s & 1990s, schools rugby in Kenya was dominated by five schools primarily i.e. Nairobi School, Rift Valley Academy, Kijabe (RVA), Lenana School, Alliance Boys High School & St. Mary’s School Nairobi.

Times have truly changed & in the 2000s & 2010s, tables have shifted dramatically so that “nobody rugby playing schools of yesteryear” have ruled the roost for close to 20 years now e.g. Musingu High School, St. Mary’s School Yala, Kakamega High School, Maseno High School, Mangu High School, Muhuri Muchiri School Embakasi, Upper Hill School, Kamukunji High School & Laiser Hill Academy. It could indeed be said that “those who were last have become first,” and that “the stones that the builders rejected, have become the head cornerstones.”

The year is 1983. The previous year i.e. 1982 Lenana School had a superb season and won the Prescott Cup in style i.e. played 10 games, won 10 games, in which Lenana scored 279 points against 30 points. Six years prior to 1983 i.e. 1977, Lenana School won the 2nd division rugby title, the Eric Shirley Shield, by beating Western Kenya/Oribis in the final. Lenana soared in those days, winning not just school titles, but club titles too.

The 1983 season was also superb for Lenana School e.g. at the 1983 John Andrews Memorial Sevens, Lenana School Team A, met Lenana School Team D in the finals, in which Lenana School Team A won. Lenana School Team A comprised senior players in Form 5 & Form 6, while Lenana School Team D comprised one player in Form 2, two players in Form 3, and four players in Form 4. On the way to the final Lenana School Team D convincingly beat Nairobi School Team A and Rift Valley Academy (RVA) Team A. There was an “embarrassing abundance of rugby playing talent” in Lenana School in those days.

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Enter Edward Rombo and Nairobi School. The year is still 1983. Lenana School had lost one game to Rift Valley Academy in the 15-a-side Prescott Cup tournament. The season was drawing to a close, and Lenana School had one crucial game left against Nairobi School, which if Lenana won, would result in a Lenana School – RVA playoff at the Rugby Football Union of East Africa (RFUEA) ground in Nairobi, to decide who won the 1983 Prescott Cup.

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The said 1983 Lenana School – Nairobi School game, was to be played at Lenana School’s home ground i.e. Sterlings. The previous season i.e. 1982, Lenana School had convincingly beaten Nairobi School 22 – 0 on Sterlings.

It was a done deal, a foregone conclusion that Lenana School would beat Nairobi School on Sterlings in that crucial 1983 game. “Who were Nairobi School?” was the mindset & mentality in Lenana at the time. If Lenana School Team D had beaten Nairobi School Team A at the 1983 John Andrews Memorial Sevens then Nairobi School was in for a whipping at the crucial game at Sterlings, was the thinking. The Lenana School Administration had even gone as far as printing a weekly program indicating the time of departure of the school bus to the RFUEA ground for the Lenana School – RVA decider, before the game between Lenana School & Nairobi School was played!

A meek looking Edward Rombo & Nairobi School land at the “slaughter house” i.e. Sterlings. The whistle is blown and the “slaughter” begins. Not quite. Nairobi School admirably kept their composure, and after about 15 minutes into the game, Rombo positioned himself strategically for what is called an intercept in rugby. Rombo was standing right there, but neither the Lenana School players nor Lenana School fans took him seriously. The Lenana School backs made the pass in front of the “invisible” Rombo, and Rombo latches onto the ball with precision timing & sprints to score a try for Nairobi School between the posts. Something is wrong i.e. this is not part of the script.

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Rombo’s try fired up Nairobi School. From “playing it safe” mode, Nairobi School now switched to “go for it” mode, “all or nothing” mode. Three tries followed in quick succession for Nairobi School. Lenana School fell apart & Lenana School fans did not help the situation by walking away from Sterlings in “protest” & disbelief, abandoning Lenana School to further humiliation. Yes there was “slaughter,” but it wasn’t Lenana School doing the “slaughtering.” It was a rebirth, a rebirth of “David vs. Goliath.”

The game ended 27-9 in Nairobi School’s favour, and mind you, tries in those days were 4 points, not 5 points as it has been since 1991.

And of-course “a star was born” i.e. Edward Rombo.

Rombo was in Form 3 at the time, but from that point on until he did his A-Level Form 6 in 1986, Rombo became the star attraction in Kenya schools rugby, the Muhammad Ali of Kenya schools rugby at the time, the Michael Jordan of Kenya schools rugby at the time.

This star attraction continued when Rombo played for the University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine Rugby Football Club from 1987 to 1990, with Rombo leading Mean Machine to two consecutive Kenya Cup titles i.e. 1989 & 1990. Rombo also played for Kenya & Invitational Kenya sides like Scorpions, Watembezi Pacesetters & Chairman’s XV.

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To cap a famous journey that began at Sterlings, Lenana School in 1983, Rombo was signed by Leeds Rugby Football Club of the United Kingdom in 1990, to go and play professional rugby in the United Kingdom. Rugby Union was still an amateur sport in those days, so Rombo had to make the switch to 13-a-side Rugby League to go professional. Quite something, right?

Edward Rombo has his name in Kenyan Rugby History & Kenyan History as a whole i.e. a pathfinder, a trailblazer & a trendsetter who raised the bar, heights & standards of Kenyan Rugby, and who spectacularly announced the arrival of Kenyan rugby, by becoming the first Kenyan professional rugby player.

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