40 years, 20 seasons, 10 league titles and still roaring

What you need to know:

  • One man didn’t join into the frenzy. Scott Oluoch, the veteran backrower, instead, went down on the knee, said a short prayer, pointed to the skies and life went on as normal. Been there, seen, done and achieved it all. After all, this was his 10th league title in his 20 years playing club rugby.

Saturday, May 7, 2022 at Legends Rugby Club. Heathens had just flattened arch-rival Kobs 22-10 to win their 16th Premiership trophy. At fulltime whistle, Heathens fans and players jumped in celebration all over the pitch.

One man didn’t join into the frenzy. Scott Oluoch, the veteran backrower, instead, went down on the knee, said a short prayer, pointed to the skies and life went on as normal. Been there, seen, done and achieved it all. After all, this was his 10th league title in his 20 years playing club rugby.

In life, Oluoch is as cool as ice, no wonder, he goes by “Iceman” for a nickname. His calmness betrays the big biceps, stony face and heavy legs that stand out about him.

On the pitch is where the ruthlessness comes in. At his best, Olouch is a battering ram, leaves everyone in his wake. His 20 tries in the league are evident enough.

Started from the bottom

Born in Kenya on April 15, 1982, Oluoch used to only hear about Uganda, probably in his Social Studies classes in lower Primary. He had never had plans of coming here, turn this country into a second, if not first, home.

But as fate would have it, Oluoch found himself packing his bags to Uganda, on a completely unknown, scary lifetime adventure. His parents, in true African style, read him the riot act after he had not performed well in school.

Oluoch started rugby as a kid, around 1994 and by 2002, as a Senior Two student at St. Mary’s Yala, he was one of the stars in the school team. However, his parents were keeping an eagle eye on him. Rugby was not a sport to be proud of, they told him. The final blow came during the Nakuru 10s.

“I remember the negative publicity that came with that tournament. There was a lot of alcohol and violence. The media went big on it and many parents pulled their kids out of rugby altogether. The rugby image went down in the mud,” he recalls.

His parents sent him to the village for four months, to keep him away from the leather egg, and ultimately, they came up with an idea of ‘exiling’ him to Uganda.

He remembers everything like it happened yesterday. Out of nowhere, they ordered him to pack his bags and the following day he was on his way to Uganda. No questions, no explanations.

Next stop, Bugema Seventh Day Adventist School to finish his A’Levels. He didn’t expect to meet any familiar face there. But as he was moving around the school, he landed on one student he had played against during an East African Inter Schools tournament in Kenya. Some relief.

In a Tweet to commemorate his 20 years here, he shows much gratitude to the Pearl.

“Thursday, April 30th, 2002 I set foot in Uganda for the first time in my life. Uganda has been kind. I have called it home exactly 20 years of my adult life. Any minute after today, I will have spent more time here, than in my country of birth. Cheers to many, many more”

Back to rugby

Rugby at Bugema wasn’t a serious deal. They had a decent team but the school authorities never registered the team into serious competitions. So, the students would only play against the Bugema University team and Oluoch doesn’t remember his team losing to their older opponents.

Joining Makerere University in 2004 for a Bachelor of Industrial Art opened more rugby opportunities. Impis were hosting the big teams in the Makerere 10s and Oluoch jumped into the action, straightaway, but in his typical journeyman style, he was also playing for Mwamba back home in Kenya.

He wanted more. He wanted a stable team playing in the Ugandan top flight. And it came by chance.

Oluoch had a new pair of boots and some student at their university hall wanted to borrow them. Oluoch refused.

“The guy told me he wanted to go to Kampala Rugby Club to train. I told him to take me there. We entered the changing rooms, dressed up and stepped out. Pirates and Kobs were using the same pitch, each team in its own half.

“I looked around and the guy had vanished from me. I didn’t even know his name. I couldn’t remember his face,” Oluoch looks back at the incident with a wacky smile.

Joining the ‘weaker’ team

Standing at the Kampala Rugby Club (current Legends) entrance to the dressing rooms, Oluoch looked at the two teams with deep scrutiny. According to him, Pirates had very big players, so in his mind, he thought that was Team A. Kobs had slightly smaller players, maybe this was the Team B.

Oluoch decided to join “Team B”. That way, Kobs had won a lottery. Oluoch, with big muscles, was straightaway pushed into the pack. He had played prop for Mwamba. No problem. But Kobs realized that his mobility, powerful ball carrying game would be needed in midfield and they slotted him at first center.

“In Kenya, at an early age, you are taken through rigorous basics. Passing, tackling, breaking tackles, rucking, scrummaging, so I could comfortably play in the pack and in midfield.

“By the time you come out of the Kenyan youth system, you are a complete package and that helped me in Uganda. I think that’s one of the aspects where Kenya beats Uganda hands down”

The move to Kobs threw Oluoch into national spotlight. Before long, Heathens pounced. Kobs fans bemoaned their big man’s move. Loyalty is not something that some people expect to feed on. And Oluoch is one of them.

In swapping blue for yellow, crossing Jinja Road down to the “Kyadondo swamp” saw Oluoch form one of, if not the deadliest loose forward trio ever seen in Uganda rugby. 

Imagine casting a look at the back of the scrum and all you see is Oluoch, Mathias Ochwo and Robert ‘Soggy’ Sseguya (RIP) at their prime. Bloody hell.

“Saturday pitch battles with that Heathens team were always cherished. Soggy, Mathias and Scott gave me headaches, man.

“Theirs was hard rugby, at halftime you would feel like you had been hit by a train. On Sunday you didn’t want to get out of bed,” remarked Stone Luggya, former Kobs and Cranes center.

Oluoch’s journeyman antics hit again. In the 2013, he signed for Pirates to play their Uganda Cup campaign. That way, he had completed the ‘Big Three’ cycle. A second stint at Kobs came in 2013-2015 and he was instrumental in their 2013 triumph.

People have always labeled Oluoch a mercenary, gun for hire, ‘Mucuba’, and he is not running away from it. Money rules the world, and it is not all about hiding one’s head in the sand.

In 2016, Shell Rimula fueled Rhinos with 75m shillings. The team went on a spending spree and captured Oluoch, Ochwo, Ivan Kirabo and Jasper Onen to join the likes of Martial Tchumkam, Daudi Semwami, Eric Mula and Arthur Mpande. This was a solid team on paper, at least.

What followed were two agonizing finishes and Oluoch was now on his way out of Uganda.

“The Rhinos project hurt me. We pushed Heathens to the last drop of blood and when we failed I felt disappointed. I even felt like retiring from rugby. I went off radar and when I recovered, I wanted a fresh experience”

The fresh challenge came in form of Harlequins in Kenya. Back home, where it all began. Only that this time he was a big man, with no restrictions from his parents.

“Aaron Ofoyrwoth was at Harlequins. So we had a chat and he told me if I still wanted to play, Quins would be good. That awakened my spirits. But one season down the road, I felt bored. I kind of didn’t find Nairobi sweet for me. I came back to Uganda”

Off season, Oluoch usually keeps working. This particular one, he let things slide and his body lost touch with the usual rigors of the sport.

Second homecoming

At the beginning of the 2019 season, he approached Heathens, but he was 37. It wasn’t going to be easy to walk into the team, he knew. Tolbert Onyango told him he wasn’t going to give him any favors.

Prove yourself or walk away was the message. In the first session, he felt his lungs gasping for air. But like a hard man that he is, he was able to come through the paces and Heathens took him up.

The hard work and commitment has since paid off with two league titles in succession. The 2021 season was shortened by the Covid pandemic and there was not much to write about it. But this season’s triumph has been sweet for both man and team.

On the individual front, Oluoch led the try scoring charts with 20. Says a lot about our league? “Definitely. You cant be having a 40-year-old, rusty man scoring 20 tries and you tell me it’s a league to be proud of. This is not to say we don’t have good players, but it says a lot about the standards,” he remarks, disdainfully.

His form has earned him a call back into the national team preparing for the World Cup qualifiers in France in September. Oluoch has not been very lucky with the national team.

He was dropped when Uganda won the African crown in 2007, only to be recalled in the subsequent team, notably the one that won the Elgon Cup in 2012, the last we have ever touched. Oluoch got dropped again in 2017, with words that left a sour taste in his mouth.

Still standing at 40

On April 15, Oluoch turned 40. He tweeted: “40 today. My best years behind me at this point. Things just get harder. Still no clue what’s going on. No clue about the future. If I was bad to you in my first 40, forgive me, hopefully I’m a better man in my next 40”.

Whereas this tweet is diplomatic, the next one came in bullish tone. On May 10, he tweeted: “Tenth league title in the bag. Another unbeaten run. Top try scorer for the league. 20th year in club rugby. Still roaring at 40. That was specifically for those who said I was too old for this.” The tweet was accompanied by a lion.

The target?

“When they dropped me in 2017, one of the national team selectors told me that I was past my rugby years. Those words cut me deep. I promised myself to work hard and here I am,” he says, assuredly.

For Oluoch, it’s tough balancing work, rugby and other responsibilities that come with his age. As an ambulance driver with City Ambulance Services, he works a daily shift of 6pm-8am.

Sometimes he does two shifts in case of emergencies. Heathens train twice a week, 5pm-7pm. Rugby Cranes train four days a week so far, 5pm-7pm. Include matchday Saturdays and it becomes a complicated balancing act.

“It’s bloody tough. Yes, sometimes I sit with my bosses and we draw a schedule that favours me but it’s not easy. Sometimes I miss team sessions when work is tight and then I have to do personal drills to be ready for matchday”

Two generations

Ten league titles, seven Uganda Cups, seven 7s titles and four Makerere 10s have come across two generations. He, alongside the likes of Alex Mubiru, Faisal Gamma, Ronald Adigasi and Andrew Olweny have floated around for long. Seeing young players come through is a source of joy.

“I can tell you, these boys are so talented. You look at Aaron (Ofoyrwoth), Innocent (Gwokto) and you cant help but envy them. Kato (Reynolds), Romano (Ucu) and Aziz (Khan) have made me stand out as their backrow partner. In my head, I am the one to fit into their play, not them into mine, because the game has since changed”

Oluoch singles out Ucu for special praise. “Ucu has been phenomenal. He reminds me of Mathias (Ochwo). The temperament, the toughness, the spirit. I am sure he is headed for greatness, should he keep working hard”

From a veteran’s flowing cup of wisdom, Oluoch knows that he is not here for many more years. Asked about his next five years, he replies half-heartedly: “I don’t know, for sure. Nowadays I take it day at a time. Let me see where the journey ends, but it is not long anymore”

Befitting of a giant, a man-mountain, a lion.

OLUOCH FACTFILE 

Age: 40

Position: Backrow

Teams played for:    Mwamba (2002-03), Impis (2004-07, Mak 10s), Kobs (2005-07), Heathens (2007-2013), Pirates (2013-14, Ug Cup), Kobs (2013-2015), Rhinos (2016-2019), Harlequins (2019), Heathens  (2019-to date)

League titles with Kobs: 2006, 2007, 2013

League with Heathens: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2021, 2022

Uganda Cup with Kobs: 2006, 2007

Uganda Cup with Heathens: 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012

Elgon Cup: 2006, 2012.

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