The Rugby Cranes have nowhere to hide. The bumper schedule of the international season has left the national rugby team with neither ample time to recover from the ever- recurring injuries nor enough training sessions to rectify their mistakes from the recent rubbers.
Days after succumbing to a 19-13 home defeat to the Kenya Lions in the return leg decider of the Elgon Cup, the Rugby Cranes must pump up the volume and raise the bar as they shift focus to the Confederation of Africa Rugby (CAR) Africa Cup in Madagascar.
Kenya are once again the similar foe awaiting Uganda when the two East African nations square off in the first semifinal of the continental showpiece at Mahamasina Stadium in Antananarivo.
With bruised egos, the Rugby Cranes must employ controlled but aggressive tactics as they desperately try to bury the Elgon Cup memories. The mission in Madagascar is, however, more arduous compared to the regional showpiece named after the ‘little rock’ in Eastern Uganda. But injury-depleted Uganda will be buoyed to throw the kitchen sink at whoever is put before them because it is their last chance to salvage silverware this season.
The Rugby Cranes fly out this evening via Nairobi where they will link up with the Kenya Lions and board the same flight to Antananarivo for the 12th edition. Current African champions Zimbabwe take on hosts Madagascar in the other semifinal on July 10.
Achieving the bare-minimum of staying in the Africa Division 1A should be the easier target for coach Peter Magona. 2014 is the year that matters for Ugandan rugby as it is the World Cup qualifying year. Not that if the Rugby Cranes end the jinx and win the Africa Cup will be a bad thing. It would be the much-anticipated icing on the cake.
Although current form precipitates Ugandan fans should follow the proceedings in Madagascar more in hope than in conviction, the Rugby Cranes can dare to dream differently.
Uganda have never lost to Kenya on a neutral ground. The actually defeated Kenya Lions 24-12 in the semifinals of 2007 edition enroute to whipping Madagascar 42-11 in the final of the African showpiece.
Last year, the Cranes once again defeated Kenya 21-19 courtesy of a last-gasp penalty by Benon Kiiza to dump Kenya at the semifinal hurdle before falling short of claiming the top prize when they were outwitted 22-18 by Zimbabwe in a final that was a war of attrition.
It should also be remembered that it was Kenya who gifted Uganda their first taste of glory in 2002. Uganda reigned 30-22 to win the Africa Division tier IB title then. But the last outing between the two sides exposed the Rugby Cranes as a side that lacked bite and stomach for a fight.
Indiscipline cost Uganda as kicker Kenny Andola scored four penalties (12 points) in the 19-13 triumph that helped Kenya reclaim the Elgon Cup with a 35-30 aggregate. Cranes’ discipline or lack of it played into Kenya’s hands as lock Timothy Ddumba got a trip to the sin bin which paved way for a Kenyan try due lack of numbers in defence. Then there was the gamble that never paid off as veteran Robert Seguya’s stint at scrumhalf didn’t yield fruit and yet there was an effective No.9 in Davis Kiwalabye on bench. The forwards were not effective as most of ball carrying efforts were sabotaged by their opposite counterparts.
On the fateful day erroneous kicking came back to haunt Uganda after almost every faithful thought a dependable kicker in Jonathan Bishop Onen had been born.Aredo and Onen kept on trading the kicking responsibilities without much success – something that left captain Alex Mubiru helpless.
The centre recipe of Michael Wokorach and Timothy Mudoola looked nice on paper but didn’t gel well on the pitch. But it will be illegal if Uganda travel to the southern African nation still thinking about the mishaps against Kenya.
The Rugby Cranes should bury the hatchet and concentrate on the job at hand. The team harbours too much talent in their ranks to keep slipping. Among the four contenders, only Madagascar are yet to win the African title – a sign that the most coveted prize in African amateur rugby can surely find its way back to the Pearl of Africa.
Captain: Costa Dinha Coach: Brendon Dawson Nickname: Saples
Captain: Jose Rakoto Coach: Berthin Rafalimanana Nickname: Les Makis
Captain: Joel Ng’anga, Wilson K’pondo Coach: Jerome Paarwater Nickname: Lions
Captain: Michael Wokorach Coach: Peter Magona Nickname: Rugby Cranes