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Heathens, Lady Cranes stand out in dead year

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MTN Heathens players celebrate after receiving the league trophy from former Uganda Rugby Union chairman and current UOC head William Blick (in white shirt). Heathens had a remarkable season this year. PHOTO BY Eddie Chicco 


Posted  Monday, December 30  2013 at  02:00


It took the Rugby Cranes six years to reclaim the annual two-team Elgon Cup from Kenya.
When they managed to do so in 2012, it was a huge pointer of how successful the following year was bound to be. The transition from the heartache of 2010 and 2011 was nearing completion. You could touch the optimism. The year 2013 just didn’t turn out like everyone had planned.

First, Uganda Rugby Union (URU) changed the format of the Nile Special Super 8 Rugby League.
The home and away basis was shelved and replaced with a knockout format to decide the champion, a bit more similar to the Uganda Cup. Few got to terms with the new format. Here, the top four after the ‘first round’ got the chance to contest for the title in a knockout format.

As expected, MTN Heathens, then chasing a fifth league title in a row, and rivals DMark Kobs made it into the final quartet and were joined by G4S Pirates and Toyota Buffaloes. The latter had sent a warning with a 22-18 win over Kobs to finish second behind Heathens. In the semis they did it again, beating Kobs 22-20 to reach the final. The turnaround was even made more memorable considering that Buffaloes only survived relegation to the lower tier in 2011.
But Buffaloes choked badly in the final that not even their young talismanic captain Alfred Bijik could show any spirit.

Heathens’ class showed in a 20-6 stroll. That day set the tone for what can easily be described as Heathens’ year – they have been simply outstanding. The Kyadondo side would later reclaim the Nile Special Uganda Cup, beating Kobs 17-7 in a one-sided final, stalling the latter’s push for a fourth crown in as many years.
A try in either half for Asuman Mugerwa and Michael Wokorach left Kobs red-faced with a trophy-less season looming since they last won the league in 2008. The Cup consolation or comfort was gone. During that Cup run, young fullback Philip Wokorach broke his leg in the semifinal and everyone was sad as he hasn’t played since. He is probably the best player to emerge since Kobs’ Justin Kimono three years ago.

It even got better for Heathens as they added another 7s title to their bulging store. There was nothing left for the rest as Makerere University Impis failed to secure funds to organize the annual 10s event.
Impis were also relegated to the Nationwide League as one of Uganda’s premier clubs continued to sink. Also, Heathens made a futile attempt to win the inaugural East Africa Super Cup contested by the champions of Uganda and their Kenyan counterparts. Kenya’s Nakuru secured the Super Cup that after a two-legged affair. Uganda’s rivalry with Kenya came again, first through the Bamburi Rugby Super Series.
For all the second time, back-to-back in that, Uganda’s Rwenzori reached the final only to lose 24-18 to Top Fry Ndovu.

With Victoria, the other local side, not making it past the pool stage, Kenya had sent a warning sign for the Elgon Cup. They were in for a shock.
Rugby Cranes won 17-16 in Nairobi, a first away victory in six years. The favour was returned with the Lions overcoming the home side at Kyadondo 19-13 for a 35-30 aggregate score. A third tie to sort this out was on the cards. Kenya and Uganda were drawn together in the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Cup semis.
Rugby Cranes were demolished 52-11 with eight tries in Madagascar as Kenya went on to win the Africa Cup which Uganda last held in 2007.

The pain wasn’t done. Coach Peter Magona, appointed to replace Yayiro Kasasa, saw his side’s relegation from CAR tier 1A to 1B. All expectations for 2013 were incidentally crashed in 80 minutes.

Soaring ladies
While the men were in free-fall, the women’s team, the Lady Cranes were soaring as league rivals Thunderbirds and Black Panthers, the two giants of the women’s league, came together for a common good.
Having failed to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 7s in Russia, they won the women’s version of the Elgon Cup. This left Lady Cranes within 80 minutes of the 15s Rugby World Cup. But a qualifying tie against South Africa in East London was never going to be a contest. South Africa won it 63-3 with 11 tries in all but Lady Cranes sold their game to an audience much bigger than home.

“Hopefully unions outside will learn that we do have 15-a-side rugby in Uganda,” vice-captain Helen Buteme said.
In the boardroom, the four-year reign of William Blick as Uganda Rugby Union (URU) chairman ended as he was elected as Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) head.
Andrew Owor, the Kyadondo Rugby Football Club boss, took over. His executive opted for sweeping changes to the game here or rather copied the Kenyan model.

The league which normally ran from January to April is now running from November to February 2014.
Kobs have shown the early intent as they sit atop the eight-team log heading into the New Year after acquiring Scot Oluoch from Heathens. Their surge will define 2014.