November is here and so are the rains. Unlike the rains that have pounded in deluges, there has been a terrifying drop in the abundance of grasshoppers. The astonishing collapse in a month the insects are supposed to appear en masse has by some distance made their utilisation as a sustainable source of protein that much difficult.
Ugandan rugby players, however, hardly lend their ferocious appetite to grasshoppers as far as sourcing protein is concerned. Despite being viewed with condescension, even contempt, in some quarters, protein shakes are what the players long for. Yet with the weather getting wetter and colder, coaches plying their trade in the Rugby Premiership know all too well that tactics for playing on muddy pitches will eclipse the significance of the protein shakes.
Playing in wet conditions has never been a cakewalk as the opening game week in the Premiership showed. It was, however, a bit of a surprise when Hima Cement Heathens toiled to contend with wet-weather rugby as Toyota Buffaloes held them scoreless during a listless first half. Many observers had widely expected Buffaloes to stray into punchbag territory after Heathens depleted them in the off season.
Buffaloes did eventually stray into punchbag territory in the second half after Robert ‘Okudi’ Masendi turned in a disciplined performance that saw him sit in the pocket and choose kicking options. The half-back showed superior tactical awareness to his opposite number Aziz Karim by dropping kicks in behind the wings. Further demonstration of his astute kicking was how he set up one of Michael Wokorach’s pair of tries in the 34-9 win.
Masendi also effortlessly found touch, allowing Heathens deploy a tactic that will undoubtedly make them unbeatable in the November rain — the lineout maul. The presence of hooker Alex Mubiru and myriad jumpers such as Romano Ogwal, Charles Uhuru and the disruptive Simon Olet mean that Heathens will need little invitation to use the drive off the lineout.
This will present a clear danger to Premiership teams that seem not to understand wet-weather rugby. Shell Rimula Rhinos’ loss at the hands of Dusupay Warriors suggested that John Musoke’s side is struggling with the wet conditions. Indeed the Rhinos look handicapped after a tough offseason saw them lose the imposing lock, Robert Aziku. They also no longer have Eric Mula at their disposal. The inside centre’s ability to get over the gain line, cause havoc for defences and off-load helped Rhinos finish second last season. They won’t scale similar heights as will Buffaloes who completed the double over Heathens last season.
If — as this column has predicted before — Heathens, Betway Kobs and Black Pirates (in no particular order) end up being locked in a three-horse race, the ponies in the Premiership will be Rhinos, Rams and Buffaloes. As for the dark horses, look no further than Plascon Mongers and Warriors. For the Jinja pair of Barbarians and Hippos, it will — pretty much like grasshoppers in this part of the world — be all about survival.