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Magona demands improvement in Rugby Cranes skills

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Magona says his coaching team are

Magona says his coaching team are looking for the right mix of players. Photo by E.chicco  

By Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo

Posted  Saturday, April 5  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

Last month, the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) unveiled a 24-man provisional squad for the national team to prepare for engagements later this year. The Rugby Cranes will face Kenya in the annual Elgon Cup and thereafter compete in the Africa Cup tier 1B in Tunisia. The announcement, made by email, was a first step in coach Peter Magona’s bid to exorcise the demons of 2013 when the team was relegated from 1A. He later spoke to SCORE’S Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo on the journey ahead and the thinking behind not selecting any player from the team that won the 2007 Africa Cup.

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First, what have you been up to since the failure Madagascar last year?
It was off-season for the Rugby Cranes and myself, so I was watching the league with a view to making selections, planning and other background work.
Strength is an ongoing aspect but conditioning has not yet started. Our key weakness is still our amateurish approach to a game that is fast moving into professionalism.
From resources (financial and human) to mindsets, from time to skill levels, from supplements to size - we are in many ways standing still while the world is moving forward and last year was an example of that.

How disappointed were you about last year and now?
Still just as disappointed because the fact is we didn’t give anywhere near the best account we could have given of ourselves.

I have received a copy of the Rugby Cranes squad, why was the naming done in a clandestine fashion and not the old flamboyant media briefing style?
I don’t know why you say “clandestine”. This is a provisional training squad – by no means the final squad that will represent Uganda but rather indicative of the form of the players through the just-concluded league. As is usually the case, we select who we feel are the right mix and form players and inform URU. That they didn’t brief the media is something you have to ask URU.

I notice from your choices that you have gone extremely young. Why so and why now?
Again, we were looking for the right mix of players who can play the style we want to and, importantly, their current form. We of course have one eye on the future but our immediate objective is to win CAR 1B because it’s important we always play with the best – and the best play in CAR 1A. That said, there wasn’t a conscious decision to go “extremely” young exemplified by a handful of seasoned players called up because their form is still among the best like Scott Oluoch, Martial Tchumkam and others.

Would you call this a fundamental change with no player from the 2007 Africa Cup squad now? Wouldn’t it be better to give all of them a fitting send-off?
My role is to get the right players, set up structures and systems to help them perform and guide them on this journey. That said, it would be premature to speak of send-offs as this is a provisional training squad – not the final squad.
Any player can still make it to the final squad by performing in the Protector Super Series or Bamburi Super Series.

You are already out of the 2015 World Cup qualifiers, you are already out after last year, so is this a five-year programme with the young players heading into 2019?
I think every year is a part of a bigger strategy and this year is no different.
But I’d say this would have to be a very small start of any programme geared towards the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019 if we are to be successful. Calling 24 players in a provisional training squad can hardly be the programme but rather a small facet of a larger programme.

How committed are you to see this new team to 2019 and will URU back you all the way?
I have a two-year contract with URU that ends this year. While my commitment to rugby is unwavering, I am part of the problem I spoke about earlier – an amateurish approach to a game that is fast moving into professionalism.
As an amateur coach I have many limitations not least of which is the time I dedicate to the team. To really move forward, we need a full time dedicated coach which means more resources.

Then we’d be about 5% of the way towards qualifying – we’d then need a committed player base (a lot more financial resources to make them full time) and exposure (similar to Kenya playing in the Vodacom Cup in South Africa).
Not forgetting the all-important need for a well-oiled conveyor belt of new young players coming through with even better skill levels than their predecessors.

So, forgiving my long-winded response, while I am committed to assisting the team and rugby in general in any way I can, I think we’d need to substantially scale up on professionalism to stand a realistic chance of making it to RWC19.

Looking forward how far can you go and lessons learnt from your two years as Rugby Cranes coach?
As important as strength and conditioning, we need to work on skills preferably from a much younger age, as young as four even.

Imagine a scenario where we get everything right with regards to our strength and conditioning today, so much so we are on par with every other nation in Africa (except SA) or, perhaps, even better.
Is it guaranteed we’d win every game or qualify for RWC? I’d say no. By example, how many kickers had a 75%+ success rate in the league? I think none. I doubt we have more than one or two breaking 50% - and this is just one skill albeit a game-winning skill.
And we can improve skills drastically without requiring much additional resources. So, from the introductory tag rugby all through all age grades to club and franchise rugby, I’d say let’s focus on the skills ability in both coaches and players.
That’s something we can do within our means today.

Rugby Cranes side
Forwards
Brian Odong, Timothy Kabonero, Cyrus Wathum, Scott Oluoch and Brian Asaba (DMark Kobs), Asuman Mugerwa, Arthur Mukama, Paul Sserunjogi and Romano Ogwal (Heathens) John Wandicho, Andrew Olweny (Sadolin Mongers),Martial Tchumkam(Ezee Money Rhinos) and Marvin Odong (G4S Pirates)

Backs
Davis Kiwalabye, Oscar Kalyango, Justin Kimono and Joseph Aredo (Kobs), Michael Wokorach, Allan Otim, Jonathan Onen, Jasper Onen (Heathens) Adrian Wasswa (Sadolin Mongers) and Kevin Makmot (G4S Pirates)