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Vincent Onyala: From Mathare Slums To Global Rugby Recognition

In summary

  • Vincent Onyala was induced into rugby through newspaper cuttings and he began playing the sport at a primary school.
  • After helping Kenya 7s reclaim their spot into the World Series, Onyala was named in the Madrid 7s dream team.

It took one year into the cold for Kenya 7s to bounce back and reclaim their spot in the global world rugby series. It has been a spectacular year of focus and determination that also saw a transition of the side with new faces coming in. Kenya also named Kevin Wambua the new coach and the pair of Vincent Onyala and Tony Omondi were named the captains.

Under his captaincy, Onyala has been instrumental for the side and even scored a try in the 33-15 humiliation of Germany; a match that ended with Kenya breaking into song and dance. The side has also qualified for this year’s Olympics.

In this article, WoK takes a look at Vincent Onyala’s humble beginnings to global rugby recognition.

Newspaper cuttings

Onyala was born in Ugenya, Siaya County before his family relocated to Nairobi and settled in Mathare slums. He went to Haidemarie Mathare 4A Primary School and was inducted into the game through newspaper cuttings.

During his school days, Onyala was always ‘unlucky’ to collect newspapers that had rugby sports stars while his mates got the ones for football.

But they say that you do not stare at a gift horse in the mouth, and Onyala used the newspaper cuttings to read about rugby and even got influenced further when he stumbled upon the KCB team training.

Later on, Onyala began playing rugby over the weekends as this was made possible through an initiative by a French-Kenya organization that was keen on improving the lives of kids in the slums.

Suffering pyogenic arthritis

In what threatened to bring his budding career to a screeching halt, Onyala was diagnosed with pyogenic arthritis, a disease that left him with swollen ankles and knees. This left him out of action for 2 years (2009 & 2010).

I went to a health center where I was diagnosed with pyogenic arthritis. It was a setback considering I was already picked up and building on to something,” he recalls.

Joining KCB

Onyala joined Ruaraka High School for his secondary education and at that time was playing for the Catholic University Monks. After high school, he began training with KCB but turned out for the Monks between 2011 and 2015.

It was during a match between KCB and Catholic University that he showcased his unmatched skills with the oval ball.

I had an unbelievable time while playing for Monks and especially against KCB. They recognized my presence which was good motivation to me,” he told Standard Media.

In 2015, he officially joined KCB where he helped the side to win the Kakamega 10s. The following year, he was handed the Kenya Cup debut and emerged as the top try scorer for the Great Rift 10s and the runner-up for the 2016/17 Erick Shirley Shield.

In the 2017/18 year, Onyala was sidelined due to a synovial cyst injury. Onyala has won the Kenya Cup with KCB four times: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

Kenya 7s debut

In 2018, Onyala received his Kenya 7s debut after a call-up by coach Paul Murunga. In the 2018/19 season, he was the Kenya 7s top try scorer with 22 tries. Onyala was appointed the side’s captain in August 2023 just a month before the men’s Africa 7s which Kenya emerged victorious as they downed South Africa to seal an Olympics slot.