Ugandan rugby has had its fair share of sibling combinations and rivalries. From the Nyangweso brothers (Leonard Were, Michael Wandera and Tony Nyangweso) to the Mudoolas (Timothy and Fred), the list goes on and on. However, the Aredos stand out for one thing; their miniature sizes.
Whereas Erasmus is a bit muscled-up, Gabriel and Joseph look deceptively lightweight for an average rugby player. And they are fine with it. They believe that rugby isn’t entirely about someone’s size. And their exploits on the pitch are testament to this.
Birds of the same feather
There is little that separates Erasmus, 31 and Gabriel, 27 of Mutoni Warriors as well as and Joseph, 24 of BetWay Kobs. Being the only children born of Patrick Mileke Aredo and Deborah Sifuna, they grew up in a closely knit-family. They also decided to study the same course, Information Technology (IT) and needless to say, they chose to play the same sport.
“I think it comes naturally that we are close and do the same things. We hang out together and listen to each other to survive. Remember, we are all that we have,” says Gabriel.
Despite that, a few social variances exist. For example, Gabriel is the most outspoken. He acts as the unofficial ‘spokesperson’ and will always find a point to defend himself.
In fact, he does much of the talking during the interview. The rest seem to be either reserved or shy.
“In terms of age, I stand between Era and Jo. So maybe I have to bridge the gap,” adds Gabriel. Joseph just laughs. It doesn’t only end there. Even on the pitch, Gabriel is Mutoni Warriors’ de facto leader. He does most of the team-talks and leads in warm-ups.
How it all started
The Aredos come from a sporting background. Their grandfather, Erasmus Aredo played golf, tennis and snooker to national level. Their father tried out rugby during his university days while the mother was an athlete and played netball.
Their cousins; Owen Kinyera, Edwin Wabwire and Shadrack Manano also play rugby.
For the Aredos, life in rugby started one evening in 2008 during a hangout. Patrick Mugisha, of Summerkamps (which later changed name to Mutoni Warriors) convinced Lionel Onyango (their best friend), Erasmus and Gabriel to join. Back home, they would train Joseph and before long, he grasped the art and joined them at Warriors.
When Erasmus joined St. Lawrence (Kabaka’s Lake) from East High School, he found little trouble perfecting his craft.
However, Gabriel’s efforts to introduce rugby at Seeta High School earned him a suspension. But the suspension did not kill his resolve.
For Joseph, rugby was the most natural choice, having spent six years at Namilyango, playing with the likes of Wabwire and Justin Kimono.
But all this while, their parents were not happy and it took them three years to come and watch them play.
“The first time I told them I was going to play, my dad objected. I had to move away from home for two days. I returned on the match day to pick my playing gear. It was too late for him to stop me,” recalls Gabriel.
The game was against giants Kobs in pre-season and according to Joseph, his brothers put up a spirited fight against Kobs mercurial winger, Allan Musoke by double-teaming him. When the news of their heroics reached home, the parents somehow softened. At least for a short time.
Another brush between the boys and their parents came in 2008. Erasmus and Gabriel had persuaded Joseph, small as he was (he still is), to make his debut. With his inexperience at the highest level, he was tackled hard and broke a finger.
“We all went as silent as a cemetery because we knew mum was going to kill us. You should have seen us panicking,” recalls Joseph. They hid the injury from the mum and by the time she found out, Joseph was recovering.
But the parents have since accepted the boys’ decisions and the only time that you will find the whole family glued to a television set is when there is a rugby match. The parents have also watched some rugby matches at Lugogo.
“Mum is a Kobs fan so they have watched Kobs the most. She keeps hiding it but we know she supports her little boy’s team,” Gabriel says. “Of course she has to,” Joseph shoots back. And the father? “He is too diplomatic; he keeps his cards close to the chest. He won’t tell you the team he supports,” Erasmus says.
The three brothers will never forget the first time they faced off as opponents. February 2, 2013. It all started at home with an early morning banter.
“I told Joseph that if I got my hands on him, I was going to dip him into the ground. My teammates wanted to smash him for leaving us. In the end, the anger and emotions cost us dearly. Kobs capitalised on that and thrashed us,” Gabriel recalls. Joseph and Kobs won 46-6.
Size matters less
Many rugby aficionados describe it as a sport of ‘different shapes and sizes’. Much as that is true, ordinarily the ‘shape’ bit tends to outweigh the ‘size’. To an ordinary fan, the huge players enjoy an advantage against the smaller ones. But that is not necessarily true because different positions call for different sizes.
Standing at 5′5″ and 72kg, Japanese scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka was the smallest player at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups. He is also understood to be the smallest player ever to have been involved in Super Rugby. Ironically, Tanaka has always said that his size “is an advantage”. That is the same with the Aredos.
“We have always been small guys with strong hearts and passion for this game. But if you want to know how tough we are, come and we tussle it out on the pitch,” Gabriel and Joseph dare me.
In rugby, sometimes you will see a small player being tackled by one twice his size and height.
According to Joseph, that’s what makes it an interesting sport.
“It is a tough sport but not rough. You are trained how to fall safely and release the ball. It also has many rules that protect players. But injuries are in almost every sport, I don’t see why people fear rugby.”
In rugby, they say if you can’t find a way through your opponent, then do it around them. Small players usually thrive on the latter.
But still, sometimes they get caught up in the big men’s strong arms. It is during moments like these that the small player has to rely on more than just the biological five senses to survive.
As the interview winds up, Davis Kiwalabye, another small player (Kobs and Cranes) comes in and assures me that size is not everything. Oscar Kalyango, bigger and taller than them all, just laughs at us. It is all in the mind, he says.
Full name: Erasmus Aredo
Position: Utility forward
Club: Mutoni Warriors
Full name: Joseph Aredo
Position: Utility back
Club: BetWay Kobs
Full name: Gabriel Aredo
Position: Utility back
Club: Mutoni Warriors
What have you learnt from each other?
Gabriel: I used to find difficulty passing the ball to the right but Joseph taught me.
Jo: Gabriel is good at running with the ball and I learnt that from him.
Era: They both helped me to perfect my passing.
What injuries have you suffered?
Jo: I have broken a finger and popped a shoulder.
Gabriel: Too many (Thinks). I have broken fingers and ribs.
Era: Knees and arms.
What is your strongest weapon?
Jo: My brain is my everything. Plus my boots and pace.
Gabriel: Endurance and pace. You will not score against me if you are not faster.
Era: Power and courage. What you come for is what you get.
What do you admire about each other’s game?
Jo: If Gabriel finds a slow guy on the wing, then we are dead. Erasmus’ natural strength is key.
Gabriel: Jo is dynamic. When I am playing against him, I need to constantly watch everything he does and every movement he makes. He is multi-dimensional, deadly with the ball in hand.
Era: I love the way they carry the ball for long distances at full speed.
What is your common character trait?
We are friendly and social. We walk away from fights not because we can’t fight, but because we are gentlemen (Kalyango laughs heartily).
In 2011, the tight brotherhood was put to the test when Joseph left Warriors for Kobs. It came as a surprise not only to the world, but to the brothers as well. Joseph had swapped sides without officially disclosing to his brothers. They only talked about it casually and just like that, he left.
He had just been called up to the national U-19 team and was eyeing a call-up to the national 7s team, which wasn’t going to be easy for a player in the lower division.
“We felt bad about it. How could he go without talking to us? But in the end life had to go on,” chips in Erasmus. Joseph keeps laughing.
Despite joining Kobs, the bond between Joseph and Mutoni Warriors had not been entirely broken. The first game that Warriors played without him, he stood behind the goal post shouting instructions to his brothers and former teammates.
At Kobs, Joseph only got limited play time. As expected, it was always going to be difficult for the youngster to break into the senior team, which irked Gabriel and Erasmus. One time, Gabriel sought a discussion with Kobs coach Fred Mudoola about the issue. Mudoola, who had also coached Joseph at Namilyango, told Gabriel that Joseph was still a young player who still had a lot to learn. But Gabriel was not having any it.
“I told Fred that if he was not going to play him, I would take him back because he was one of our best players. Yes, he was young, but too good to sit on the bench.”
Slowly, Joseph’s game time increased and in 2012, he was instrumental in Kobs’ win over eternal rivals Heathens in the Uganda Cup. In June 2013, he was called up to the national 15s team, making his debut in Uganda’s 19-13 loss to Kenya in the Elgon Cup at Kyadondo.
This was testament that his move to Kobs had paid off. Needless to say, he had started achieving more than his brothers. Career-wise, you could argue that it was a great move because unlike his brothers, Joseph has won the league (2014), Uganda Cup (2011, 2012), the 7s circuit (2015) and the Lions Cup (2012, 2014). He has also become a national team regular.
And how do they feel being outclassed by their little sibling?
“We see all that but for us, it is not easy to leave Warriors. We have put in a lot of effort and time; that team is in our blood. If Joseph was to leave Kobs, I am sure he would return to Warriors. I should say we are some of the few loyal Ugandans left in the world,” says Erasmus.
“It would be stupid of me to chase fame instead of form. At Warriors, I can play every game but at a bigger club you cannot be so sure. I am loyal to Warriors and I don’t see any need to move,” Gabriel asserts.