Rugby 15s, 7s divorce, a painful bliss

Super Vision. Phillip Wokorach vies for possession against Zimbabwe last year. He will join the test side in France. PHOTO | JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

  • When Rugby Cranes coaches Fred Mudoola and Bobby Musinguzi named their chosen 28 for next month’s Rugby Africa Cup in France, some elements in the local rugby fraternity were quick to suggest Uganda was only travelling to be yet another statistic

For many years, the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) juggled the same small group of players between test games and sevens rugby engagements. 
It meant players regularly switching camps when the need arose even when it was clear most could not deal with the demands.
When Rugby Cranes coaches Fred Mudoola and Bobby Musinguzi named their chosen 28 for next month’s Rugby Africa Cup in France, some elements in the local rugby fraternity were quick to suggest Uganda was only travelling to be yet another statistic. 
The side had seven newbies in Alema Ruhweza, Akera Komaketch , Alhaji Manano, Thomas Gwokto, James Mugisha, Timothy Odongo and Joseph Oyet. 

With several returnees, creating room for doubters who thought the side lacked grit in some departments. It had a lot to do with some big names missing out on the list especially among the backs, the system had placed them in coach Tolbert Onyango’s 7s set-up. 
The likes of Ian Munyani, Adrian Kasito, Aaron Ofoyrwoth, Desire Ayera, Kelvin Balagadde, Isaac Massanganzira and Nobert Okeny would on any other day have been on the plane to France but not this time. 

“We miss the talent the guys in the 7s camp would have added to the side but their absence creates room for other players to come up,” says Rugby Cranes captain Ivan Magomu, who has also been part of the 7s class before.
Mooting the idea
Talk of separating the two codes had been in the corridors for some time with Onyango pushing for it as early as 2016, months after winning the Africa Cup Sevens in Nairobi, Kenya. 
“There is plenty of stuff that we need to work on technically and this will take a lot of time,” he told Daily Monitor back then. 
“First of all we need to completely have a full split of 7s and 15s players so that we don’t have to mix up the codes, then we can tick the boxes,” he added. 
Onyango’s wish was not granted because of the small pool of players both codes had to choose from , but for how long was it going to last?

Fast forward to 2019 when URU released their 2020 calendar, it was clear they had nowhere to hide and had to make a stand. As Rugby Africa revealed a revised 2020 Rugby Africa Cup (RAC), World Rugby also announced a Rugby 7s schedule, dubbed the ‘New Challenger Series’ which had Uganda and 12 other sides compete in three legs. 
The development meant the Rugby Cranes test side was to play more games in a calendar year than before. 
They were to play eight games instead of the usual three or four as a result of the home and away format of the Victoria Cup ( six games) – including the possibility of going past the semis with a final or third place play-off – and an Elgon Cup tie to play.
 
In a nutshell, four home and away pool games, a semi-final and final would make it six for the tournament before considering the annual two leg Elgon Cup.
The 7s side in the same year had scheduled trips to South America in Viña del Mar, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay before focusing on  Hong Kong for the World Series Qualifier , with the Olympics qualifiers too on the way. 
Fixtures conundrum
The year’s last stop would be Rugby Africa Cup Sevens and a possible trip to Kenya for the annual Safari Sevens.
“That is a lot of rugby,” said URU boss Godwin Kayangwe then.  “Next year will be tight because we cannot avoid separating the 15s and 7s, we have to do it because at some stage they will all be playing at the same time.” 

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic surfaced and there was no rugby played for most of the year with most competitions cancelled.  Last year was not so different with limited activity behind closed doors but the reality checked in this year as both codes are in business in the same window. 
The 7s side has had to deal with the Africa Cup which they won in April, next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the Hong Kong 7s in November and possibly the Safaricom 7s. On the other hand, the 15s set up have the Elgon Cup and a trip to France.

The beginning might look tough, especially for the 15s set-up that will miss key players, but there are fruits to yield in the long run. The split calls for more players to step and fill the void in the test setup. Regular Cranes caps will only make them better with more experience. 
For Onyango, his long-time prayers have been answered as he gets to have enough time with the players of his choice to take the Rugby Cranes 7s places. 

It also gives him a platform to implement the strict 7s policy he has always desired to have to facilitate competition at the global stage. With this arrangement in place, Onyango will fancy his side’s chances as they continue to take a shot at World Series qualification, a stage where they have come short thrice. 
In the end, Uganda rugby wins as the separation will deepen the international player base as players become specialists at national team level.

The benefits

The beginning might look tough especially for the 15s set up that will miss key players but there are fruits to yield in the long run. The split calls for more players to step and fill the void in the test setup. In the end, Uganda rugby wins as the separation will deepen the international player base as players become specialists at national team level.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.