For rugby’s love, the ‘Pirates of Diani’ are ready to set sail
Diani is synonymous with pristine white sandy beaches and the turquoise blue waters that have made it a popular tourist destination. However, a completely new and different phenomenon has started gripping the small coastal town.
Rugby, in Kenya, has long been described as “a game played by gentlemen but watched by thugs” but it has long been associated with the Kenyan upcountry particularly the former Western and Nyanza provinces.
Rightly so because some of the biggest names and most of the prominent clubs to play the sport hail from the above named regions.
Then there is a popular myth that coast residents prefer a laid-back lifestyle devoid of any risks, bother or strain and with the high octane running and aggressive tackling that is associated with rugby, it is perhaps not surprising that the sport has not been as popular at the coast as it is in the rest of the country.
However, beneath the glitz and the glamour that comes with being a popular tourist spot, beneath the jaw-dropping scenes, beneath it all… lies the untold story of South Coast Pirates RFC , a semi-amateur rugby team, working hard each passing day with the aim of not only making a name in the rugby circles but also fighting a life battle of perhaps turning professional, and with it comes a ticket to stardom, and riches for the lucky few, who’d make it to the paid ranks in Europe, and the rest of the world!
So every morning and evening, you’re likely to meet chiseled young men clad in tiny shorts making their way to practice sessions or a game of touch by the beach; it’s called rugby, a sport they so much love!
Nothing highlights the growth of the sport in the area more than the South Coast Pirates RFC. The first rugby club to call Diani home and the brainchild of the late George Barbour, a former captain of the East African rugby team back in the 1970’s, the team competes in Kenya’s second division sitting at position 10 in the 12-team table.
The team’s meteoric rise from an amateur side during its inception in 2013, to a now competitive side that plays in Kenya Rugby Union’s second tier, has been nothing but phenomenal.
Inspired by the mild success of the annual Diani Beach Touch Rugby event that the local youth and ‘beach boys’ took a liking for to an effort of promoting the sport, George Barbour, who himself was a former captain of the East African rugby team back in the 1970’s, sought to have a fully fledged 15 aside team. Together with David Nolan and Paul Thompson, the former who played professional rugby in Ireland, the first steps into what was previously uncharted territory were taken.
A team was quickly assembled from the same bunch of locals who had previously participated in the touch rugby events, a few balls provided and after some training sessions in the months that followed, the team applied to join the Coast Nationwide League. This leap of faith was rewarded with a fourth place finish in their debut season; a very commendable feat considering they were solely funded by the founders and a few well-wishers.
Fast forward the team is now a mainstay in the second-tier league rubbing shoulders with some of the best local talents on our shores. Their meteoric rise has managed to attract more players, including center Charles Tendwa who has previously played for the Kenya U-20 side. Even the most nuanced of critics would appreciate the strides the club has made.
Outside the rugby pitch, the club takes part in rugby development programs in local schools. Hundreds of school children have been beneficiaries of this programme.
“We have trained hundreds of boys and girls. Many of the first team came from this programme and virtually our entire second team,”club chairman Kelvin Nduhiu explained in a recent interview with Citizen Digital.
“Last year, the two teams representing the six coastal counties came from our programme. It has been very successful and we hope to expand it,”Nduhiu added.
South Coast Pirates meteoric rise has coincided with improved performances by coastal schools in the national school games. It is these endeavours that have made the club very popular with locals. A home match attracts a solid vocal support of up to 500 fans with the most of them ardent followers who take the trouble of travelling even to away trips to support the team, such is their dedication!
The journey hasn’t been smooth sailing though. Funding remains a key issue and even with the support of the Kenya Rugby Union and other sponsors like Base Titanium (an Australian based mining company); the club still has a lot to worry about.
“Being located at the south coast, geography provides a huge challenge. Of our eight away games, four are in Western and three in Nairobi area. A game in Western for example involves a 2000km five-day round trip. This is not only expensive but also takes toll on the team,” lamented Nduhiu.
Despite all the hurdles, the South Coast Pirates have set their sights on a Kenya Cup slot in the near future. It may seem daunting, but with the spirit of their late chairman rubbing onto them, nothing is too impossible for the “Pirates of Diani” as the dream is achievable.