Rugby World Cup: A dream that never was for Uganda

Busy. Rugby Cranes turn focus to the Elgon Cup. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE

What you need to know:

  • There has been a wind of change in the dugout as much as on the pitch.

Uganda wanted to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. They never really had the tools and means to make it through the final qualifying round that ends in France tomorrow.

Reality dawned on the national team – the Rugby Cranes – last Saturday with a 42-7 loss to Kenya in a one-sided Africa Cup quarterfinal.

Coach Fred Mudoola’s side shipped in six tries, all of which were converted as the Simbas ensured that they touched down closest to the posts.

The gulf between the two east African neighbours was evident from the get-go. It has not always been like this but the signs were there, for long.

Preparations

These are tough economic times for everyone. Uganda Rugby Union (URU) just haven’t had the resources to get the 15s to a competitive level this year.

Rugby Cranes had to do all their preparations at home without any credible test games to prepare them for the task at hand.  

The Simbas featured in the second division of the 2022 South Africa Currie Cup as one of the three invitational sides in the 10-team tournament.

They won one game, beating the Elephants 42-24, but surely gained a lot from that exposure as their set-piece execution showed.

To understand the impact that had on coach Paul Odera’s side, you must reflect on the past. Back in 2006, URU signed an agreement with South Africa Rugby Union.

Armed with knowledge delivered by coach Chester Williams, a Rugby World Cup winner, Uganda beat Kenya to win the two-team annual Elgon Cup for the first time.

A year later, Uganda beat Kenya 24-12 in the semifinals and trounced Madagascar 42-11 in the final to win the Africa Cup at a hostile Mahamasina Municipal Stadium in Antananarivo.
Making the World Cup is big business and teams that have made the semifinals this year have made the kind of investment that Uganda hasn’t.

The split

For more than a decade, there has been an appeal to split the shorter code, the Sevens (7s), from the 15s. It eventually happened, this year, again a lesson drawn from bigger rugby nations.

Only one player had doubled up this year, France-based Philip Wokorach. The coach Tolbert Onyango-led 7s programme going back years were granted their wish ahead of a gruelling schedule.

The reigning African champions are soon heading to England for the Commonwealth Games (July 28-August 8). They will spend two months away from home as Onyango and his team head to Chile for the HSBC World Sevens Challenger Series in August.

Then the Rugby World Cup Sevens beckons in South Africa from September 9-11.

Some of the core members of the 7s side – captain Michael Wokorach, Adrian Kasito, Timothy Kisiga and Ian Munyani – would greatly improve the 15s backline.  

Kevin Balagadde and Desire Ayera, too, would be cogs in the pack. Mudoola has not bemoaned those he missed, choosing to make lemonade from his lemon.

High turnover

We will never know what Mudoola would have been doing at this time of the year had his former national teammate Robert Seguya not passed on last year.  

There has been a wind of change in the dugout as much as on the pitch.

There are 11 survivors in the current team from the side that lost 22-16 to Algeria at Kyadondo rugby ground in the last international last year on July 10.

Then-captain Brian Odongo, Saul Kivumbi, Robert Aziku, Byron Oketayot, Ayera, David Ssemami, Justin Kimono, Kasito, Aaron Ofoywroth, Maxwel Ebonga and Claude Otema are not playing for Uganda this year. The reasons vary from retirement to injury to loss of form.

It’s impossible to build a consistent team with this high turnover rate which erodes the structure of the side.

Tomorrow and beyond

Even with the poor display against Kenya, it is the lack of patterns until after 65 minutes that should worry Mudoola and URU tomorrow and beyond.

A prop in his heyday, he prides himself in building defences. His team beat Senegal 30-29 in the semifinal for positions 5-8 which is a grand total of 81 points conceded in two games.

Back rower Jacob Ochen has scored a try in each of the games while Philip Wokorach’s 18-point show against Senegal showed that this team can play.

However, shutting shop is crucial against the much bigger Ivory Coast in the fifth-place playoff tomorrow.

Thereafter, the annual Elgon Cup against Kenya takes centre stage and positive results will be important to restore pride, for now.

Lemonade- Big misses but... 

Some of the core members of the 7s side – captain Michael Wokorach, Adrian Kasito, Timothy Kisiga and Ian Munyani – would greatly improve the 15s backline. Kevin Balagadde and Desire Ayera, too, would be cogs in the pack. Mudoola has not bemoaned those he missed, choosing to make lemonade from his lemon.

Rugby Africa Cup 2022

Sunday- Fifth place playoff
Uganda     vs.     Ivory Coast
Seventh place playoff
Senegal     vs.     Burkina Faso
Third place playoff
Zimbabwe     vs.     Algeria
Final
Namibia     vs.     Kenya

Elgon Cup 2022

July 23:     Uganda     vs.     Kenya
July 30:     Kenya     vs.     Uganda 

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