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Kenya's rugby expert now practicing law in Nairobi

24 May 2013, 18:42 Ben Ochieng

Nairobi - For Africa's first ever export to the English Rugby League scene, success was a long time coming.

But from the ruthless ambition and single-mindedness with which Edward Rombo approached the game, it was only natural that in time he would grace the sport at its highest level.

Born in March 1967, Rombo was always a prolific athlete exhibiting great promise in every sport he played in primary school.

"Football was always my first love, but my admission to Nairobi School changed all that. Sports in the school were serious business and any student worth his salt had to cut his teeth on the rugby pitch," Rombo told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.

Rugby was the school religion and Rombo, as it were, was a dedicated convert. A born athlete, he had natural flair and enjoyed a perfect physical condition, which easily molded him into the formidable try-scoring machine he became in his prime.

So talented was he that he made the first team in his fourth form, an unprecedented feat at the time. A year later he made his debut for Kenya "B" side.

The year of 1987 saw Rombo, now a freshman at the University of Nairobi and a regular starter for the university side mean-Machine, drafted into the national squad to play at the 1987 All Africa Games held in Nairobi where rugby was included as a sport for the first time.

It was hardly surprising that he emerged as the tournament's top try scorer alongside Zimbabwe's Richard Simba. It is worth noting that Rombo scored seven tries during Kenya's 99-0 drubbing of Nigeria.

Balancing his studies in Political Science whilst captaining a team with a busy playing calendar was no mean feat for Rombo, and he attributes his success at this to a firm tradition that did not allow sports celebrities to be academic failures.

His years at the helm of the college side were perhaps Mean Machine's most successful to date, laying claim to among others the Kenya Cup trophy, Eric Shirley Shield just to name a few.

The same period also saw him tour successfully with the national sevens side, taking part in significant tournaments like the 1990 Singapore Sevens where he was voted the tournament's most valuable player.

At the time, it seemed to many that he had reached the top of his game and was above his league. His love for the game was illustrated in the manner he played it; hard, determined and with desire.

It is precisely his attitude and the aptitude he displayed that came to determine the altitude he was to reach as a payer. In 1990, a certain Cecil Walker approached Rombo with the view to signing him on to pay Rugby Union for Ponsomby RFC in New Zealand.

As fate would have it, a journalist and keen rugby follower in Britain also approached him about playing in the English Rugby League within the same period.

Rugby League, unlike Rugby Union is a totally different game composed of different rules and played by 13 men rather than the traditional 15.

For Rombo, who was flown to Britain in August of 1990 for a month long trial, it was a daunting task learning to cope with a new version of rugby at the highest level.

But he had come as close to Nirvana as any rugby player could ever hope. As a player, he was complete possessing unparalleled speed on the pitch and menacing tackling skills. Two weeks into the trial, he was called to the starting line-up.

"My career at Leeds was extremely fruitful and being the only African import I was well accepted, so well accepted that I was exempted from all import quotas by the English Rugby League."

All good things, it is said, come to an end. Edward Rombo with a degree in law from Leeds University in his pocket and a brilliant rugby career to his name, decided to call it quits.

Age was no longer on his side and other more pressing priorities beckoned him back home.

Rombo, who is currently a practicing lawyer and dedicated family man, credits his success to the influence and instructions of his respective coaches who handled him right through school to club level.

- Xinhua

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