Women working way to Rio 2016
Posted Saturday, September 28 2013 at 01:00
KAMPALA-Whoever coined the phrase “success doesn’t come easy”, must have had Uganda women’s rugby in thought. The dream to play in the 2014 IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup in France is all but over after that humbling 63-3 loss to South Africa on September 7.
But it would have been foolhardy for anyone to think that the Lady Cranes were going to boss South Africa on that chilly evening at Buffalo City Municipal Stadium in East London in a one-off World Cup qualifier for the right to represent Africa.
Initiated in 2003, Women’s rugby is a relatively new sport still in its baby steps. Helen Koyokoyo Buteme, a former hockey player, deservedly takes the plaudits for the game’s roots.
It all started when the affable Buteme approached Reuben Ambicha, who was in charge of rugby at Kyadondo Rugby Football Club (KYRFC) then, about the possibility of her and a couple of friends playing touch rugby at the facility.
“He (Ambicha), without hesitation, gave us a go ahead,” Buteme, a smile cutting across her lips, told SCORE. “Together with Anne Sizomu and Rebecca Akwenyu (also a cricketer) we mixed and mingled with Heathens and Buffaloes boys playing touch rugby whenever we could.”
From three, the group grew to 30 girls bubbling with enthusiasm. Grace Lubega, who currently plays at lock for Heathens took charge of the initial training sessions with the guidance of inspirational Jim Park, a former Rhinos rugby club coach.
“In September 2003, I was persuaded by some of our male fans, who used to stay around to watch us scream, run and play what was predominantly a men’s game to make the switch from touch to contact rugby. The idea was for us to formulate teams,” explains Buteme, who recently graduated with a Phd in Tuberculosis Immunology.
“Park was drafted in by KYRFC to be in charge of us. However, a number of players did not like the full contact sessions so they dropped out leaving only 20 of us.”
Decisions are bound to bring change whether good or bad. And it was history being made when, a month later, the remaining 20 played in a Uganda Cup final curtain raiser. Each side fielded 10 players and from a mere trial, the game turned out to be a big success as the media was awash with stories of the birth of women’s rugby in Uganda in the subsequent weeks.
Such developments attracted more women to KYRFC and there was no turning back as Thunderbirds came into existence as the first women’s rugby club in Uganda.
In April 2004, Thunderbirds took their interests of becoming a renown regional powerhouse across the border by featuring two sides in the Kabeberi 7s in Nairobi.Thunderbirds A whipped their Kenyan counterparts in the final to script some sort of history hence winning over more fans in the process.
Later in October, KYRFC hosted an International Women’s 7s showpiece that attracted teams from Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. Thunderbirds A won again while Gulu’s St Katherine reigned in the school girls’ category.
With Uganda starting to gain regional recognition, KYRFC took it one step further by hosting a 15s rubber between Uganda and Rwanda in December. Uganda obviously won. In 2005, the Uganda Women’s Rugby Association (UWRA) was formed and affiliated itself to the Uganda Rugby Union (URU).
Later in February, the women’s team was baptised Lady Cranes (to-date) and they proceeded with their dominance by annihilating Rwanda 92-0 in their first-ever International Rugby Board (IRB)-sanctioned 15-a-side test match.
The game was played at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. The game was all the more historic as it became the first time any rugby team from Uganda played under floodlights.
Fast forward to June 2005, the Lady Cranes were at it again, silencing Kenya in an Elgon Cup curtain raiser at KYRFC. It was that meeting that gave organisers ideas to put in place the women’s version of the Elgon Cup also known as Migingo Cup.
In June 2006, Uganda lost to the technically superior South Africans in the final of a Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) 7s event in Kampala.
Two years later in September, there were better fortunes for the Lady Cranes when together with South Africa they qualified for IRB Women 7s World Cup. The global event in Dubai 2009 was a learning curve for the Ugandans but that milestone remains their biggest feat.
It may sound like a fairytale but the journey of women’s rugby has not been smooth sailing all the way. The hurdles have and are still in existence.