Busy year exposes narrow player base for Cranes

Sunday June 3 2018

Back. Cisse knows all about shootout agony,

Back. Cisse knows all about shootout agony, having missed from the spot when Senegal lost to Cameroon in the 2002 Cup of Nations final in Mali. AFP PHOTO 

By Robert Madoi

After failing to speed up their game from delivery at the breakdown to decision-making and passing, Uganda lost the first leg of the Elgon Cup quite comprehensively at the hands of Kenya.
The 34-16 loss, which saw Uganda drop to 37th in the world rankings, was largely occasioned by a lethargic performance from Uganda’s tight five. Even the world’s most exciting backline would struggle if their pack is constantly being marched backwards. And so was the case at Legends Club. Watching the Rugby Cranes tight five do the ‘moonwalk’ (MJ would be proud!) was as intensely soporific as the buildup to the encounter. The aforesaid grimly negative and entirely joyless buildup only jolted to life following the release of Rugby Cranes’ matchday squad two Thursdays ago.

The squad’s composition prompted reactions some of which were swooning, but mostly disapproving really. The exclusion of some high-profile players from either the Starting XV or Match Day squad was hard to miss. Top of them was Philip Wokorach who was wrapped in cotton wool on the replacements’ bench (he came on after the breather to split the uprights with a tough conversion and break the ankles of a Kenyan player for good measure!).

Starved of fast ball situations, the fullback kicked 18 nerveless points during the pulsating 33-33 draw away to Kenya at RFUEA ground last year. It’s not everyday that Rugby Cranes choose to hand a potential match-winner a bit-part role. But 2018 is far from being a mundane year for Ugandan rugby. At the start of the year, the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) knew that a plethora of sevens tournaments and five Gold Cup matches - which effectively double as World Cup qualifiers - meant that players would have to be extraordinarily durable to figure in both variants of rugby union.

Uganda Sevens players have already had energy-sapping trips to Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Australia. Cognisant that they risked becoming totally jaded, the likes of Michael Wokorach and Lawrence Ssebuliba were not included at all in Rugby Cranes’ back division last Saturday. What all of this speaks to is the narrow player base that this column has always been at pains spotlighting. It is something that URU has to address decisively.

It has taken a jam-packed schedule of international rugby to force the union’s hand. URU has always been more worried about a lack of depth than it cares to admit. Rather than cross its proverbial fingers, the union should move to make the game less Kampala - centric. It needs to cast the net far and wide.