“At RFC Stallions, we’re trying to make sure that we provide opportunities for people to play rugby at the highest levels.”
“Not many Nigerians are aware that rugby is played in the country,” says this article, an acknowledgment of how unpopular the sport is in Africa’s most populous country. When you google “rugby in Nigeria,” you’ll find more questions than answers about the sport. The country’s most popular sports are football, athletics, basketball and boxing. Enter the RFC Stallions, a rugby team in the U.K formed by a motley crew of Nigerians, who want to change that.
Temi Okenla, who has represented the Nigerian rugby team at the international level is one of the founders of the RFC Stallions. Pierre Pierre Goualin, born to a Nigerian-French father has also represented the England under-16 rugby team. Playing rugby at the top level isn’t the only thing Pierre and Temi have in common; they also wanted to create a pathway for African immigrants in the U.K and U.S to get involved in rugby. Temi says that the goal of the Stallions is simple: “We’re trying to make sure we give opportunities for Africans in the diaspora to play at the highest levels of rugby and give them a pathway to play for their national teams.”
Creating a pipeline for rugby
One of the reasons it’s important for rugby to gain mainstream popularity in Africa is that it will make it easier for the creation of a talent pipeline. With African football, there are academies for youngsters, and age grade competition that ensures a steady supply of talent to the senior national team. This is one luxury rugby doesn’t enjoy.
After the 2012 Africa cup held in Morocco 2012 where national teams fielded a lot of foreign based players, it became clear that someone had to create a talent pipeline for rugby. Temi shares that it was at this point a few national teams turned to the Nigerian Exiles. “We got a last minute request from the national team. They wanted us to send them players for an international team because they had some difficulty promoting rugby in Nigeria.” And so the Nigerian Exiles was aptly named to reflect the team’s focus on training players for the purpose of joining the national team.
A strong connection for the Nigerian exiles
When the Nigerian Exiles was founded, there was a strong focus on the social connection that Nigerians share. “It’s always nice to be with like-minded people, so to be able to gist and talk with other Nigerians, there’s nothing like that with anyone else; you don’t get that with most teams. When you come to see Nigerian players play, they dance, they love to have fun and eat. We’re very relaxed in the way that we play, but when we mean business, it’s serious work: we tackle, we’re physical and fast.”
In time, the Nigerian exiles started to see interest from more other African nationals, and it became obvious to Temi and Pierre that popularising rugby should be for more than just Nigerians. In the beginning, it was about Nigerians, but today, the vision is to help Africans in the U.K and U.S get into a beautiful sport. “We’re trying to get ourselves out there and say, look, Africans play rugby and play it well.”
From the Nigerian exiles to the RFC Stallions
“What has happened is that we’ve realised that you can’t be insular if you want something to grow. You can’t pigeonhole yourself and be just the Nigerian Exiles because then you place all sorts of limits on yourself.”
It informed the change of name from the Nigerian Exiles to the RFC Stallions, and today, the team now helps to develop all African players in their ranks. This season, the Stallions will compete in a seven-a-side league starting on May 14.
Super 7s Series Leg 1 Newbury – May 14
South Island 7s Isle of Wight – May 21
Super 7s Series Leg 2 London Irish – May 28
Super 7s Series Leg 3 Stafford – June 11
Super 7s Series Leg 4 Aldershot – June 25
In the end, these are the days of small beginnings for the Stallions, but one thing is clear, they have big goals. Part of those big goals include sending the Stallions to the Lagos tournament to win. To do that, they will need to beat big teams like the Samurai; they will also have the support of Lemonade Finance, since we know all about taking on the big boys and telling African immigrants about an app that makes life easy for them.
You can attend any of the RFC Stallions games and don’t forget to cop some merch that features Lemonade and the Stallions!