Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 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 and St. Mary’s School Nairobi. Times have truly changed for in the 2000s and 2010s, tables have shifted dramatically so that “nondescript rugby playing schools of yesteryear” have ruled the roost for close to 20 years now, including Musingu High School, St. Mary’s School Yala, Kakamega High, Maseno, Mangu, Muhuri Muchiri School Embakasi, Upper Hill, Kamukunji High and 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, Lenana School had a superb season and won the Prescott Cup in style – played and won 10 games in which Lenana scored 279 points against 30 points. Six years prior, in 1977, Lenana had 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. For instance, at the 1983 John Andrews Memorial Sevens, Lenana School Team A met Lenana School Team D in the finals, in which the latter won. Team A comprised senior players in Form 5 and 6, while 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, 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.
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 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 winner of the 1983 Prescott Cup.
The said 1983 Lenana School-Nairobi School game was to be played at Lenana School’s home ground, christened Sterlings. The previous season, in 1982, Lenana School had convincingly beaten Nairobi School 22-0 on Sterlings.
It was a foregone conclusion that Lenana would beat Nairobi School on Sterlings in that crucial 1983 game. “Who are Nairobi School?” was the mindset and mentality in Lenana at the time. ‘If Lenana’s Team D had beaten Nairobi’s 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 and Nairobi School was played!
A meek looking Edward Rombo from Nairobi School lands at the “slaughter pitch”. The whistle is blown and the massacre begins. But not quite.
Nairobi School admirably keep their composure and, about 15 minutes into the game, Rombo positions himself strategically for an intercept. He is standing right there, but neither the Lenana players nor fans take him seriously. The Lenana backs make the pass in front of the “invisible” Rombo, who latches onto the ball with precision timing and sprints to score a try for Nairobi. Something is terribly wrong… this is not part of the script.
Rombo’s try fires up Nairobi School. From “play it safe” mode, Nairobi switches to “go-for-it, all-or-nothing” mode. Three tries follow in quick succession in favour of Nairobi School. Lenana disintegrate in short order, the fans walk away in “protest” and disbelief. It is utter humiliation. There has been a slaughter alright, just not in the way it was envisioned.
The game ended 27-9 in Nairobi School’s favour – tries in those days were four points mind, not five points as it has been since 1991.
A star was born in Edward Rombo.
He was in Form 3 at the time, but from that point on until he did his A-Levels in 1986, Rombo became the star attraction in schools rugby. His star continued to shine when he played for the University of Nairobi’s Mean Machine Rugby Football Club from 1987 to 1990, leading Mean Machine to two consecutive Kenya Cup titles in1989 and 1990. Rombo also played for Kenya and Invitational Kenya sides like Scorpions, Watembezi Pacesetters and Chairman’s XV.
To cap a famous journey that began, Rombo was signed by Leeds Rugby Football Club of the United Kingdom in 1990. 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, isn’t it?
Edward Rombo has his name in Kenyan Rugby history as a pathfinder, trailblazer and trendsetter for raising the bar, heights and standards of the game, and who spectacularly announced the arrival of Kenyan rugby, by becoming the first Kenyan professional rugby player. (