Ladies returned to global stage, baby steps for new leadership

Friday December 27 2019
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Hellen Gizamba (with ball) getting back up from Juliet Nandawula during the Test against Kenya on July 13 at Kyadondo RFC. This was the first ladies test engagement after five years of obscurity. PHOTO BY EDDIE CHICCO

A lot has unfolded in the last rugby calendar but arguably the most significant of them all was the change in administration in April.
After six years under the leadership Andrew Owor as Uganda Rugby Union (URU) president, in came Godwin Kanyangwe with his team.
Kayangwe raced into local rugby’s biggest office with ease after beating his opposition, Ivan Ssemuwemba, with 44 votes to four.
Did the outgoing regime leave Kayangwe to take on an ideal office? Not really, there were achievements on pitch but it becomes hard to credit the outgoing administration for them, the system had flaws that the new regime must diagnose and treat.

It’s still early days but a recently released four-year strategy spells a feasible plan to rectify some of the underlying defects. A streetwise Kayangwe has all it takes to get the secretariat well run but only time can tell.
Away from the politics and boardroom, the odd-shaped ball has done its rounds starting with the Uganda Cup last October. After a season of unprecedented delight in sweeping all the domestic titles, Stanbic Pirates now had it all to defend and started by getting to the Uganda Cup final which they unfortunately lost 21-14 despite being 14-3 up at some stage. For Kobs, it was the best way to bounce back after a couple of years without a 15s trophy to make it six Uganda Cups in their trophy cabinet.

Three-horse race
Going into the Nile Special Rugby Premiership, Kobs, Hima Heathens and Pirates were front runners but the latter fell off the crusade early on only to have a major say in where the Holy Grail was to end up. Heathens, on the other side were desperate to show up, they had finished fifth the previous campaign, their worst finish in the history of the league.

As Kobs only had one job, win the last three games of the campaign to emerge champions, Pirates were never on the same script. They showed up to spoil the party with a resounding 30-14 win to put Heathens in the driver’s seat and forthwith sealed a strong campaign with a record 14th title.
With both the 15s tourneys done, it was time to turn to shortest version of the game in shape of Sevens Rugby. Hungry and angry for missing out on the league, Kobs showed intent from onset. They led standings throughout the campaign. It was theirs to lose although Pirates pushed them all the way. In the end , they managed their fourth Sevens title in five years. Pius Ogena, Joseph Aredo and Adrian Kasito were outstanding.

Below par Rugby Cranes
On the international scene, The Victoria Cup replaced the defunct Gold Cup. It meant Uganda was to play Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya on home and away basis. After three months of competing, Uganda settled for third place behind Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The period also saw Asuman Mugerwa named the new Cranes captain with Justin Kimono, his assistant. The annual Elgon Cup stayed put in Kenya for the umpteenth time and at the end of the day there was no silverware to celebrate let alone a few wins and the promotion of new faces to national team fold.
The Sevens national side was chasing a three-peat at the Africa Men’s Sevens having won it in 2016 and 2017. It did not go as planned with Uganda finishing third, behind Kenya and Zimbabwe, to earn a third successive shot World Series qualification in Hong Kong.

Tough qualification campaign
The series qualifiers proved a hard nut to crack with Uganda failing to progress from pool which also had Germany, Chile and Cook Islands. From Hong Kong, The Safari Sevens were up next where Tolbert Onyango’s men made it to the Challenge Trophy Final to lose 29-12 to South African side Western Province. Schools rugby had St. Mary’s College Kisubi ran rings by claiming the 15s and 7s competition, they could have completed a treble had it not been for Hana Mixed to snap the Kratos Schools Cup.
Ladies rugby hit a milestone with a return to the global stage in Hong Kong after a decade.


Ladies showpiece
It was as a result of making it to Africa Cup final which Kenya won 29-7. The second place finish was enough to book them a ticket to Hong Kong where they were out of their depth. The ladies test side was also revived after a five year void. Edgar Lemerigar and Leon Lubambula put together a side that lost the Elgon Cup 79-18 on aggregate. A fortnight later they left for South Africa to partake in the Regional Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification process. It was a rude awakening with losses to Kenya, South Africa and Madagascar. 2020 offers the ladies more ground for revival and stakeholders must push for the best of the ladies’ game.

Next year poses a lot of questions but one stand out. The expansion of the 2020 Rugby Africa Cup (RAC) and the creation of a new a Rugby 7s schedule, dubbed the ‘New Challenger Series’ which will have Uganda and 12 other sides compete in three legs, makes 2020 an action packed year with many national side assignments for both the sevens and 15s.
The big question however remains, with all the lined up engagements, how Uganda will cope with its narrow player base?