What you need to know:
Kobs’ three-year slump seems to be coming to an end. The return of Mudoola has taken them to the summit again and made the club dream of success after a long lull.
On a sunny Friday evening last February, 25th to be exact, utl Kobs sunk to perhaps an all-time low.
It wasn’t because they had to travel to the border town of Busia to attend the burial of Maj. Gen. Francis Nyangweso the next day.
The late Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) president is a father to three sons – Leonard Were, Tony Nyangweso and Mike ‘Tank’ Wandera - all of whom have played, or in the case of the latter still play, for Kobs.
Before they embarked on the journey east, rivals MTN Heathens gave them a thorough beating – winning 33-0 in the Nile Special Rugby Premier League at Kampala ground that Friday.
Tries from Jonathan Bishop Onen (2), Jude Keremundu and Scot Oluoch only exposed the decline at Kobs and the turnaround didn’t appear anywhere on the horizon.
Throughout those painful 80 minutes for Kobs and endless ecstasy for Heathens, the latter dominated the scrum, picked all but one lineout and constantly found gaps in the opposition’s armour.
While they sought remedies, Heathens’ skipper Alex Mubiru was unsatisfied. “The score should have reached 50 if we were more clinical,” the hooker noted then.
Events of that evening were a culmination of a number of things, most important among them being the sudden retirement of the bulk of the team two years prior.
In his first full season as coach, Fred Mudoola had led Kobs to the league title in 2008 with that group, many of whom were part of the Rugby Cranes’ 2007 Africa Cup triumph, just like him.
His three-year ban for an altercation with a referee during the annual Makerere 10s in 2008 coincided with the decline of Kobs. It’s impossible to ignore his influence as his return has coincided with a mini-revival.
You cannot take away anything from what Heathens have achieved and built over the past three title-winning seasons.
However, Kobs’ lack of tactical discipline and a coach who knows what’s best for them cannot be overlooked.
Herbert Wafula, Yayiro Musisi Kasasa and Ronnie Lutakome have all been tried here and none has performed as fitting as Mudoola, at least recently. Today, the men in blue find themselves in a position they had forgotten.
Beating Heathens 13-11 and G4S Pirates 21-8 has enabled Kobs establish a four-point lead at the top of the eight-team log. The league reached mid-way point last Saturday.
‘Glorified first loser’
It’s only half the job done but the glass is more of half full than half empty. What’s changed from events of the past three years?
“In my book, you are either number one or nothing. Second place is only a glorified first loser,” Mudoola, a motivator, says. He did start the resuscitation late last year after an apology, which slightly lessened the ban.
He immediately stepped into the national team, Rugby Cranes, as the forwards coach. Later on, Kobs did recall their prodigal coach to lead them to a 29-5 rout of Pirates in the Uganda Cup final in Jinja. Such is his tactical acumen that he employed a makeshift side just as Pirates thought they had Kobs on the wall before the game. The 2007 Cup champions were stunned as Mudoola completed a remarkable defence in a one-sided encounter.
The warning signs of what was bound to happen once the former Kobs skipper resettled in the job were there. However, it was the league where judgement was to come.
Mudoola has gone to what he knows best – defence – and is not shy about it. “Defence wins titles,” he says.
In seven games thus far, the 10-time league champions, since Uganda’s admission into the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 1996, have conceded only three tries.
The magic is mainly in making the forwards more mobile, especially tight head and captain prop Brian Odong, which allows the team to play with freedom.
Penetrating the pack has been made near impossible with eighth man Steven Ogwete becoming a formidable leader though he remains an erratic ball carrier. This has come at a cost. The productivity of the attack has left a lot to be desired. “It takes time for players to get used to my way of work but I think they are getting there.
“Defensively, they are clicking and my attention for the second round will be on improving the attack,” he adds.
The first installment of reward is in three tries wing Justin Kimono did score towards the end of the first round, two against Sadolin Mongers and the other in the victory over Heathens.
If the tactical edge is not enough to back the influence Mudoola’s return has had, the biggest impression is created by the manner in which Kobs still find ways to win.
In full flow, Mudoola’s side has battered teams with lots of tries. When those go missing, they have found Kevin Markmot’s boot reliable like in the case of seven penalties for the win over Pirates.
The scrum-half has been alternated with Ambrose Kamanyiire to great effect with Ronnie Lutakome, though less agile than the other two, controlling the other half back position. Mudoola deliberately fields Kamanyiire when he needs someone to throw in phases for the forwards, Lutakome helps him slow the game down and Markmot brings speed.
He exactly uses each one’s strengths and roles thereby surprising the opposition. Above all, Ogwete has been the star of the show without curtailing the development of the youngsters.
Any good coach is judged on the number of young players he unearths and Kobs have hit that patch where finding the ‘next’ Allan Musoke is the ultimate target.
It seems there won’t be another one like him in terms of execution soon but the introduction of Joseph Aredo at fullback and improvement of centre Oscar Kalyango are the best things to have happened to Kobs this year.
Aredo does all the basics well and is principally calm under the high ball whereas Kalyango’s decision-making is much better and his defending is solid.
The mark of a good coach lies in producing new talent, improving the existing one and most importantly – winning. Mudoola is a three-in-one. But he admits there is so much to do.
Utility: Coach’s rugby career
Mudoola joined Kobs in the late 90s while still a student at Namilyango College and rose to become the team captain in 2004. The prop also played for the Rugby Cranes team that won the Africa Cup in 2007. He however injured his shoulder and was forced to retire early.