What you need to know:
- The national side is in France for an eight-team Rugby Africa Cup where only the winners will earn a direct slot to the 2023 Rugby World Cup finals.
Only three African countries, besides South Africa, have been to the Rugby World Cup. Ivory Coast (once), Zimbabwe (twice) and Namibia (six times) are the others.
While the quadrennial tournament started in 1987, Uganda only joined the international body in 1995.
It took another eight years for Uganda to join the qualification party, doing so in 2003. The Rugby Cranes have now been at it for 19 years, and counting.
Today presents yet another gigantic challenge as Uganda seeks to rub shoulders with the ‘Big Boys’.
The national side is in France for an eight-team tournament where only the winners will earn a direct slot in the global showpiece to be held in the same country.
Rugby Africa’s decision to take the qualifiers to Europe was heavily criticized as bordering on ignoring the interests of the game on the continent.
“We did request Rugby Africa to revisit their decision,” Namibia rugby president Corrie Mensah said, but “the outcome was to remain with France as host.”
Kenya and Zimbabwe put in bids which the continental body described as “strong”, but it decided to award the hosting rights to France.
“Our main goal is to keep growing and progressing and taking our rightful place on the international stage,” Rugby Africa wrote in a statement back in March.
Former Uganda women’s international Helen Buteme argued that Rugby Africa “doesn’t have the interests of African rugby at heart”.
“There is no justification whatsoever for taking what is our biggest tournament to a European country. Africa needs this tournament while France does not.”
This may linger for long as Uganda face eternal rivals and neighbours Kenya in a win-or-bust quarterfinal clash at the Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence.
The triumphant team have Senegal or Algeria to contend with in the semifinals. On the other side of the draw is Namibia/Burkina Faso or Zimbabwe/Ivory Coast.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Namibia will stretch their qualification streak to seven successive tournaments having made their debut in 1999.
Anything other than the Welwitschias returning to France next year will be a miracle that any of the other seven sides will cherish for a lifetime.
The winner will slot into group A as Africa 1, thereby joining New Zealand, France, Italy and Uruguay.
The losing finalist will have a shot through an intercontinental playoff.
For Uganda, this dream stretches to last July when the Rugby Cranes beat Ghana 53-12 and lost to Algeria 22-16 at Kyadondo.
While the playing staff hasn’t changed much even with the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) belatedly ‘divorcing’ 15s from the 7s, the voice in the dugout has.
Coach Robert Seguya lost his battle to leukemia last December and has since been replaced by Brian Makalama and then Fred Mudoola.
The latter, known for simulating match situations in training, always approaches games with confidence.
“We are heading to France to showcase what Uganda can do,” the former Rugby Cranes front row said.
Unlike the Kenya Simbas, who played in the South Africa’s Currie Cup First Division this year, Mudoola is hoping that he has done enough training at home.
A derby like this one could normally come down to set-pieces, especially the scrummages and lineout delivery.
Many on the 2007 African champion’s roster will be well-known to the rivals having played in Kenya over the last few years.
France-based fullback Philip Wokorach is the standout name having dominated the Kenya rugby scene with his mind-blowing side-steps for Kabras Sugar in 2016.
The 28-year-old Wokorach is among seven players here who have had a taste of the Kenya Cup League.
Wokorach is joined by front-row Asuman Mugerwa, who guided Kabras Sugar to their Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup in March and April respectively this year.
Kenyan-born back-row Scot Oluoch has been a regular in local rugby circles, having studied at St Mary’s Yala before playing for Mwamba and Kenya Harlequin.
Forward Mark Omoding plays for Quins while another forward Eliphaz Emong once played for Homeboyz and Kabras Sugar with backs Joseph Aredo and Solomon Okia playing for Quins.
There are also seven players set to earn their international cap in a squad of two that is a sprinkle of experience and youth.
Among the forwards, prop Alema Ruhweza, lock Akera Komaketch and flank Alhaji Manano will be up to make their Rugby Cranes debut.
Backs Thomas Gwokto, James Mugisha, Timothy Odongo and Joseph Oyet are all up for that precious first cap.
The Simbas and Cranes last met in the Elgon Cup in 2019 where the Cranes won the first leg in Kisumu 16-13 before Kenya turned the tables in Kampala, winning 16-5 for an aggregate 29-21 victory to retain the Elgon Cup.
Uganda have only won the Elgon Cup twice since 2006 – in 2012 and 2006 – with the Simbas stumping authority throughout. But this is a different ball game with a lot at stake in it. One moment of magic can settle a lot.
The blissful divorce...The inescapable decision
It was in 2016 when coach Tolbert Onyango cried for divorce of the 15s from the 7s. Onyango argued then that this was among technial aspects of the game that needed attention. The full split of 7s and 15s set-ups, he said, would ensure there is no more need to mix up the codes.
But the rugby union did not see reason to move with urgency. However, three years later, the inevitable caught up with them due to fixture congestion for engagements. Only France-based Philip Wokorach is in the Rugby Cranes XV setup from the Rugby 7s team that conquered Africa in April in Kampala.
Captain Ivan Magomu noted that although they miss the talent the players in the 7s camp would have added to the XVs side, their absence creates room for other players to prove their worth.
Rugby Africa Cup
Today | quarterfinals
Uganda vs. Kenya 4pm
Namibia vs. Burkina Faso
Zimbabwe vs. Ivory Coast
Senegal vs. Algeria
Uganda Vs Kenya - Head to head
Last six meetings in Xv setup
July 7, 2018 Kenya 38-22 Uganda
May 26, 2018 Uganda 16-34 Kenya
June 24, 2017 Kenya 33-33 Uganda
June 10, 2017 Uganda 18-23 Kenya
July 30, 2016 Kenya 45-24 Uganda
June 4, 2016 Uganda 10-48 Kenya
June 20, 3016 Uganda 30-25 Kenya
June 13, 2015 Kenya 20-17 Uganda