Ex-rugby star Mwanja reminisces time with late Ayimba
The rugby fraternity and people from all walks of life expressed their sadness after it was confirmed former Shujaa Captain and Coach Benjamin Ayimba had passed on Friday evening.
Former Shujaa Captain and Ayimba’s teammate Dennis ‘Ironman’ Mwanja is still in shock after the demise of a close friend and remembers fondly the memories the two shared during their days with the national team.
The Ironman who is a player by his own rights, last featured in the HSBC (then IRB) Series as the Shujaa skipper during the 2008 London and Scotland legs where he scored a number of memorable tries.
At that time, Mwanja was Kenya’s all-time leading try-scorer in the series with 58 touchdowns and having won over 70 caps; however he has since been overtaken by Collins Injera, who has 240 tries to his credit.
The KCB RFC tactician remembers just how they qualified for the Commonwealth games in Manchester England in 2002 with Ayimba and Mwanja still thriving and dependable players in the national team, before going on to beat Samoa 28-20 in the semifinals.
In 2004, Shujaa would go on to qualify for the Rugby World Cup to be held in Hong Kong but Mwanja would miss out with a knee injury to the disappointment of Ayimba and his teammates.
Two years later Kenya Rugby Union would settle on former skipper Benjamin Ayimba to take over the team, assisted by former players Felix Ochieng as Assistant Coach and Oscar Osir as team manager. This marked the rise and rise of Kenya.
However it was the belief and the responsibility bestowed on him by Ayimba who had since retired and taken up the coaching role and a big brother figure to his former teammates, and the sense of brotherhood would come to test.
Mwanja remembers vividly the month of November 2008 which will probably always remain stitched in his mind. He had just orchestrated Kenya’s qualification to their third successive Rugby World Cup Sevens in Tunis, Tunisia when the doctor relayed some news that could change his life forever.
The medic said Ironman required an urgent anterior cruciate ligament surgery that could decide his rugby future.
He went under the knife but after slightly more than a year in the cold, the stubborn tackler, who had overcome many obstacles, made it back to the national team with Ayimba wasting no time with handing him back the captaincy.
Ayimba handed him the recall to the Shujaa team for the Adelaide and Kong Hong Sevens in 2009 with the Rugby World Cup also scheduled for that year.
“Some things happen with a purpose and it helped me look at life from a different angle and get to know who my real friends was Ayimba was not only my coach but a brother to me during that tough time,” Mwanja recalled.
Mwanja recalls how he instilled the sense of brotherhood and teamwork in the team heading to the Rugby World Cup in Dubai the year 2009 with Kenya going on to lose 12-0 to Argentina with Mwanja again missing out with a knee injury despite stellar performance in the HSBC series and qualifying games.
However Ayimba would offer Mwanja a free travelling ticket just to watch his teammates play in Dubai for his exploits and orchestrating the Rugby World Cup qualification.
This act of kindness by Ayimba showed just how much he would out of his way to make each and every player in his team, Mwanja would go on to retire from playing rugby but took up coaching roles at Thika RFC and currently t KCB RFC.
However, this and many acts of kindness by Ayimba to him and his teammates would go a long way with the two always catching up when Kenya Harlequins and KCB RFC played with the duo coaching both team respectively.
“It’s a big shock considering his stature and what he offered to rugby and the country at large, we have lost a servant and true patriot of the game, his passion and love for the game will be missed and we mourn we the family during this tough times, Mwanja mourned Ayimba.