Battle for supremacy between Heathens, Pirates

Heathens srum half's Paul Epilo (with ball) attacks the Pirates defence. PHOTOS/EDDIE CHICCO 

What you need to know:

The playoffs gave the top eight teams a second shot at the trophy through the generous but unforgiving knockouts, which have now whittled down to two – Heathens versus Pirates.

It’s all or nothing for the Pirates and Heathens as the 2024 Nile Special Rugby Championship concludes this afternoon at the Kyadondo Grounds.

The new format has kept fans on tenterhooks until the end, culminating in a thrilling finale on Saturday.

The playoffs gave the top eight teams a second shot at the trophy through the generous but unforgiving knockouts, which have now whittled down to two – Heathens versus Pirates.

Heathens hold a record sixteen titles, while Pirates are the defending champions, setting the stage for a classic final of an emerging force versus a well-crafted machine.

Neutral Venue?

Initially, the game had no designated venue before the union proposed Namboole Stadium to test its readiness for the upcoming Rugby Africa Cup. 

They finally settled on the unpopular decision to play at Kyadondo after considering the league sponsor's commercial interests. However, Heathens are not invincible at Kyadondo.

The yellow machine had dominated almost everyone until the second leg of their semifinal against Kobs, which they lost 18-13 but advanced 42-36 on aggregate. That loss ended their decade-long unbeaten streak against Kobs and their 25-match unbeaten run.

“It is a sport, and we were bound to lose at one time,” said Heathens coach Mohammed Athiyo. Athiyo believes the loss could be a blessing in disguise for his team, which may have been slipping into complacency. “I’m glad it happened [at that stage] so we can go and prepare very well for the final because every team will bring their best show.”

Magomu will want to lead Pirates to glory. 


Ironically, Heathens’ previous loss at Kyadondo was to today’s opponents, Pirates, who beat them 8-6 on April 24, leading to Pirates' championship triumph last year. That was only Pirates’ second title in 28 years. Over that period, Heathens and Kobs have claimed 25 titles between them, with Heathens winning ten of the last 14.

Pirates have claimed two titles (2019 & 2023) out of the last six from Heathens and remain the only serious threat to their dominance.

Pirates have had a challenging path to the final. They led Hippos at halftime of both semifinal legs by ten points but almost faltered, surviving with a 57-54 aggregate thanks to Desire Ayera’s work rate. 

“We have to remember that rugby is a game of 80 minutes. They’re going to give a big shift, so we also have to go in hard and get it,” said Pirates captain Frank Kidega ahead of today’s gripping encounter. Heathens won the regular season encounter at this ground 16-12.

Heathens’ profile

Name: Heathens RFC

Founded - 1985

Homeground – Kyandondo

Captain – Michael Wokorach

Sponsors – Platinum Credit

Head coach – Mohammed Athiyo

Titles - 16

Seasons in the league – 33

Pirates’ profile

Name: Black Pirates RFC

Founded - 1995

Homeground – Kings Park Arena, Bweyogerere

Sponsors – Stanbic Bank

Head coach – Marvin Odong

Captain – Frank Kidega

Titles - 2

Seasons in the league – 29

Previous league winners

1991: Heathens

1992: Heathens

1993: Heathens

1994: Not held

1995: Kobs

1996: Impis

1997: Kobs

1998: Kobs

1999: Kobs

2000: Kobs

2001: Kobs

2002: Heathens

2003: Kobs

2004: Heathens

2005: Heathens

2006: Kobs

2007: Kobs

2008: Kobs

2009: Heathens

2010: Heathens

2011: Heathens

2012: Heathens

2013: Heathens

2014: Kobs

2015: Heathens

2016: Kobs

2017: Heathens

2018: Pirates

2019: Heathens

2020: Heathens

2021/22: Heathens

2023: Pirates