Saturday April 5 2014

As veteran rugby players bask in the sun, questions abound

By Robert Madoi

They may not quite have an innate propensity to pull a rabbit out of a hat or grant wishes with the wave of a magic wand, but the Magicians franchise has sure captured our fancy in the ongoing Protector Rugby Super Series (PRSS).

Last weekend, we saw the strapping Rugby Cranes warrior Mathias Ochwo cross the white chalk in his first competitive match in just under a year!
Although Ochwo looked a tad rusty playing as an open side flanker, having him on the comeback trail proper was in many respects a welcome sight.
Ochwo did just enough to help Magicians pip Fimbo 8-5.

It was, however, Ochwo’s Heathens coach, Brian Tabaruka, who stole the thunder by landing the Man of the Match gong after admirably marshalling Magicians’ back line during the low scoring affair. Tabaruka, a veteran of many rugby battles who has now mastered the coaching ropes with Heathens, was ably assisted by another back who has been there, done that.
Tonny ‘Stone’ Luggya put in quite a shift at inside centre, beautifully peeling off Tabaruka on multiple occasions.
Keeping up with the theme of veteran players turning back the hands of time have been Faisal Gama (Protector), Simon Wakabi (Crocs) and Robert Byabashaija (Crocs).

Gama’s activity at the base where he has admirably recycled the ball has been such a beauty to behold. Wakabi has meantime showed that -- just like his younger brother, Lawrence -- he still has pace to burn as well as the legs to nail improbable place kicks! On his part, Byabashaija -- whose rugby odyssey has taken him from the back line to the front row -- has been unplayable at the breakdowns.

So, as a greying subset steals the show from its juniors, one cannot help but probe deeper.
What does this say about Ugandan rugby’s growth curve? The veteran players do not have at their disposal four cylinders. Simon Wakabi, for instance, was forced to wave the white flag when he noticed that he was running on empty.

Superior skill
What they have though is a superior skill set that has been refined by the numerous matches they have under their belt.

The almost unadulterated bliss that veteran players have enjoyed at the PRSS has had twofold aftereffects. For starters, it has shown just how narrow Uganda’s player base is.

With the national team players barred from making appearances in the PRSS and Sadolin Mongers players featuring intermittently, veteran players have been forced out of their sabbaticals. If we needed any empirical evidence to jolt us into growing the game well beyond the confines of Kampala, the PRSS has provided it in droves.

The second aftereffect is that that has many second-guessing fresh talent coming through. It doesn’t, this school of thought argues, reflect well on the young blood that veterans are upstaging them. These veterans were expected to blow away the cobwebs from their game; not to win MoM accolades. Some food for thought there.

Crowd violence across the board should be worrying
The Nile Special University Football League

The Nile Special University Football League between Makerere University and UCU was abandoned after rowdy Makerere students attacked and beat UCU goal keeper Steven Makubuya. Photo BY AMINAH BABIRYE

Bouts of crowd violence have in the past week marred Ugandan football. What is particularly disturbing about the violence is that it was precipitated by two markedly different sets of people.

It all started at the hallowed Ivory Tower of Makerere University where a University Football League match took place. Makerere University was squaring off against league debutants, Uganda Christian University, Mukono.

Trailing by a goal, and with time fast running out, Makerere University took exception to a refereeing decision that yielded a corner-kick and not the penalty they so desperately wanted. The hosts took to the field to express their dissatisfaction in a manner that bordered on being macabre.

A few days later, another tone of ill-concealed glee in crowd violence took centre-stage, this time in the Jinja backwater of Kakindu. BUL FC had been playing SC Villa in a Uganda Cup round of 16 match.

With both sides having shared two goals, the lottery of spot-kicks came into the equation. BUL shaded it, winning 4-3. BUL fans took to the lush greens of Kakindu Stadium to hail their victory. The BUL fans weren’t done, though. After the ululations, it dawned on them that they had a score to settle with their Villa counterparts.

Early this year, BUL fans were savaged by Villa fans after a Fufa Super League match at Nakivubo Stadium. BUL fans’ keepsakes, including a distinctive Kisoga drum, were seized by their Villa opposite numbers. So, BUL fans saw an opportunity to pay back in the same currency. Whoever tried to tell BUL fans that the old law of an eye for an eye makes the world blind was ruthlessly shoved aside.

As I wrote earlier, what must worry football officials is that all shades of fans -- young and old; educated and semiliterate -- are showcasing an unquenchable appetite for wrecking mayhem! This calls for a multilevel approach to rid the game of this vice.

Fans have to be brought to the realisation that the dichotomy between winning or losing (the two variables that usually trigger crowd violence) shall never be solved by spells of full-blown violence. Whether the powers that be can prop sensitisation campaigns across different levels is up for debate, really.