Untold story of the making of a rugby star

By BRIAN WASUNA

Posted on Sunday, August 11th, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Many a time, stories of greatness will have in them an unsung hero without whom not much would have been achieved.

The story of Dan Adongo is no different, as the man who pulled him into rugby is barely known.

Uruguayan born Michael Pike, a teacher at Strathmore School not only introduced the man mountain to the gentleman’s game, but also taught him the basics, mostly after the regular training sessions with the rest of the team.

“In his first days he was always curious, wanting to know as much as he could to get better. We would stay on after the rest had left and work on passing, tackling and how to fend off defenders, something that he perfected,”says Pike.

He adds that Adongo’s size, speed and intelligence were way ahead of his age, which made it obvious he was one day going to be a household name in rugby.

Despite being in junior school, Adongo would at times be sneaked into the high school’s first team, and was always one of, if not the best player.

Adongo was snapped up by South African Super Rugby side Natal Sharks, where he played for their under 19, under 21 and Vodacom Cup sides before moving to the Blue Bulls.

Lack of game time forced him to seek solace in New Zealand’s Counties Manukau that head hunted him through Head Coach and All Blacks legend Tana Umaga. He is the first Kenyan to win the ITM Cup Championship.

He returned to South Africa for one season with Super Rugby new boys Southern Kings, where he became the first Kenyan to play in the Super Rugby.

Pike says Adongo is probably the best athlete the school has ever produced, as he was in the rugby, basketball and football school teams by the time he was in form two, and was also the fastest in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints.

Adongo is just one of the talents Pike has nurtured at Strathmore, where he was the school’s junior rugby coach until the mid-2000’s when the sport fizzled out of the junior section.

South Africa based centre David Ambunya is another one of his rugby sons, having moulded him. He has played for both the 15s and 7s national teams.

Former Kenya international John Allan Namu is also one of Pike’s students, and he speaks highly of the former Nondescripts winger.

“It’s too bad that his career is demanding but he would have taken strides not too different to those taken by Daniel (Adongo),” says Pike.

Two of Kenya’s top referees, Constant Cap and Andre Karani also played for the Strathmore Bandits during their high school days.

Switching to officiating

They both chose to switch to officiating rather than play club rugby, a move that neither of them has regretted, as they rank highly as compared to most Kenyan referees.

“My father taught us how to ride motorcycles at our farm from a tender age. I also remember getting a horse as a gift when I was in grade three. When I was twelve I had a bad accident while riding him, and if it was not for a luckily well positioned fall, I would not be alive today,” says Pike about growing up.

In 1969, he and his older brother were shortlisted for an engineering scholarship by the United States Army and he came first, but turned it down for his brother’s sake.

“It was the last time he would be eligible for it as he would be above the 25 years age limit but he came second, so I sacrificed my place so it would go to him,” says Pike.

Following the move, he felt he could not wait for the next opening so he opted to pursue architecture at Universidad de la Republica. Between 1970 and 1973, he played for the Uruguay 15s team.

“I remember when we hosted a Four Nations tournament in 1971 and we were playing Brazil in the final. Our captain Fernando Parrado put me through a gap and I made a 50 metre run to the try line where their fullback tackled me as I grounded the ball and I just passed out,” reminisces Pike.

The year 1972 was one of Pike’s saddest, as he lost a number of friends in the Andes plane crash that killed most of the members of the Christian Brothers School for a game in neighbouring Argentina.

The team’s captain, Parrado, was one of Pike’s closest friends and was one of the 16 survivors who had to live on the flesh of the already dead passengers for close to two months.

The incident inspired Hollywood blockbuster Alive, with Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke as Parrado.
Pike co-founded a school, Monte VI in his hometown, and ran it for nine years before he was offered a job in Strathmore School in Kenya. He took the offer, and relocated to Nairobi.

Aside from teaching religious education and science, he also took up the role of rugby coach.
“One of my fondest memories with the team is when we won the national under 13 tournament, not just unbeaten, but without conceding a single try,” he says.

Despite the game dying out in the primary section, Pike still lends a hand with the high school section of the school.

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