Kakuru bleeds rugby

Players (in green kit) scream with their coach Kakuru (blue shorts and blue polo shirt) after a successful tournament. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Prayer and worship help to calm me down in the presence of the team and players. A bottle of Gordon’s pink mixed with cola and ice makes the pain bearable too. I hate losing so on the rare occasion I do. 

Ambrose Kakuru’s love and passion for rugby has cost him relationships, a bottle of Gordons’ gin and coke get him over tough losses with prayer.

For the last 14 years, the name Ambrose ‘Pio’  Kakuru, has been synonymous with coaching rugby especially at grassroots level. Namilyango College, London College, Boks (Kobs’ feeder side), Gulu Falcons, Panthers and Kobs can testify to that.

His towering figure howling instructions on the touchline has been a common sight on different grounds, and after all these years he has groomed a multitude of players and won himself plenty of silverware. If we had a local rugby hall of fame, Kakuru’s induction would be on the way.

How and when did you first come across rugby?

When I was seven years old, my elder brother played for Impis Rugby Club in a league match. He was photographed and published in the New Vision. My Dad, who diligently read the newspaper, landed on the article. He called me from my room and categorically said, “Come see, your brother. Instead of reading, he's out there playing rough sports. I never want to hear that you are playing that game.” He never said the name of the sport but I had read the article. So when I joined Namilyango College in 2003, it was the main sport but I kept my distance from contact rugby my entire O’ Level.

What accolades did you win as a player?

As a player I won bronze in the East African Regional Championships in 2007,   Schools’ league in 2008, two Uganda Cups with Kobs and two league titles with Kobs.

What have you won as a coach?

Three school league titles with Namilyango College, Three nationals titles with Namilyango College, An  East African regional trophy with Namilyango College, runners up medals at the regional and national level with Namilyango College, bronze medals at the regional games with Namilyango College . School league 7s, coronation cup, u14, u15, u16 and u17 trophies, all with Namilyango College, Division championship 2022 and playoffs in 2022 with Boks.

Which teams have you coached?

I have coached Namilyango College since 2009 with a stint at London College of St. Lawrence. I have coached Boks rugby club, Gulu falcons, been on the Kobs technical bench, panthers’ rugby club for two sessions.

You are a good coach but why have you chosen to stay with schools and age grade yet you have what it takes to coach a club?

Thanks. I don’t consider myself good but great. I really love nurturing young talent. Many clubs have no clear structures, developmental plans and winning culture. I would set tough standards for any club to meet. The Joy I get when my player succeeds in life and personal goals is unmatched. My players play for various clubs and they shine. Most clubs think winning is everything but the chance to try again in sport will never cease.

What is your coaching philosophy?

Together, everyone achieves more. It helps me build a team bond that revolves around the individual goals of the players. And in the end, everyone achieves. I was part of teams that felt like brotherhoods and others that felt like a collection of players. I make it a priority to tend to the players’ mental state and physical boundaries to enable them achieve more than they could imagine.

What is stopping Ugandan rugby from realising its maximum potential?

Lack of team culture

We don’t know how to nurture team work. We believe in individuals other than the collective unit. Many of the players are talented as individuals but lack team work. Most teams are assembled rather than coached. Every player compared to the previous one and not appreciated for their own ability.

Lack of development structures

As a country we lack structures. People that are charged with developing our game are more interested in having marketable statistics to earn money than to develop a winning legacy. Uganda won the 15s African trophy in 2007. Since then we have been relegated to tier B. All the targets of our union are unmeasurable, excuse filled and basic.


The country still relies on a head coach to train all aspects of the game. We lack statisticians, defence and offence coaches, scrum and lineout coaches, set piece coaches, kicking coaches, psychiatrists and mentors.

We have not modernised our game yet the entire world is adopting new techniques. Experience is the best teacher.

Coach educators should have coached, excelled and given practical tips and solutions not the crammed notes. The curriculum needs to be localised to help coaches adapt to their local challenges. Many players are not coached. They are thrown in the fire and expected to wing it. 

Best rugby experiences as a coach and as a player, explain why?

As a player, two memories come to mind. Captaining the Uganda U19 team. Leading the team in upset victories especially against the Moroccans who walked off pitch before the final whistle in shock and disbelief.

I scored a hat trick against Impis RFC while still playing at Mongers. That was against a Herbert Wafula team who was also the coach of a Victoria Bamburi series side. I was drafted into the Victoria Bamburi super series team at the final whistle.

As a coach, rinning all three categories U15, 17 and 19 was a special feeling. I was reminded that anchors, Namilyango College,  did it twice but that was a great experience. Finishing the entire 2022 season unbeaten with Boks and Anchors. But the best experience in that year was the playoff final comeback win against Walukuba to gain promotion to the super league. At the time it felt like a dream come true.

Worst rugby experiences as a coach and as a player, explain why-

Losing a Uganda cup semi-final to Kobs while still at Mongers. We had led the entire match and lost it at the final play. I really thought we would win Mongers’ first major 15s trophy. Being banned for a crime I never committed also hurt me till this day.

As a coach, I treasure all my experiences so I don’t have any bad experiences.

How do you handle heart breaking losses?

Prayer and worship help to calm me down in the presence of the team and players. A bottle of Gordon’s pink mixed with cola and ice makes the pain bearable too. I hate losing so on the rare occasion I do. 

What do you tell yourself to get moving?

I cannot win them all, but I should not lose again. I should learn, grow and reinvent the winning formula. Preparation for the next tournament would begin straight away

And what do you say to players?

As long as my team prepared well for the game, we gave it our all and still lost, then we have no regrets. There is always a next time. Luckily defeat fuels all my teams to greater heights.

What do you look out for when scouting players?

Self-belief and attitude. At a young age everything is attainable. But overcoming life challenges and doubt is the biggest challenge. Players with the right mind set are coachable and adapt easily to the ever changing demands of a coach.

Do you ever think of retiring?

I think of it all the time. I actually quit playing in order to become a coach. I have been dumped by many girls for my love and passion for rugby and my boys as they call them. They believe they are in the shadow of rugby. So as life challenges come, I will have to move on. I believe that there is no success without a successor. So I will have to step aside in the near future. I am grooming successors to fill the space when I decide to relax.

What is the most satisfying thing about coaching?

Seeing your player make it in life, career and sport. The Joy I get seeing club rugby and the national team filled with my players is a feeling I cannot explain. The change in people is overwhelming.

What are some of the hardships you have come across coaching rugby?

Everyone believes that they can do what we do. People undermine the time, planning and thought process involved in coaching. The dynamics keep changing and coaches seem to be expected to evolve ahead of the tide. I have endured a lot of personal sacrifice and ridicule. I have become a meme doing this. Stress, anxiety and excitement. A wide range of emotions all kept under composure is really draining.

Describe for me what would pass as a good player.

A player that grows with each training session. Adds to his arsenal every day they turn up for training. A player that is teachable, remains teachable and challenges the lessons. A team player, with a never say attitude and always puts their body on the line.

How do you prepare for games?

As a perfectionist, I have also learnt to stop overthinking, believing in the training and team strategy. I try to play out how the game will go in my head and try to cover all the bases. My rituals have changed over time. But currently, I listen to the Ireland anthem on repeat. It helps me believe and ready to fight.  Hilsong music as I shower also sets the tempo for game day. I also think about the pep talk and motivating factors if we are down or on top.

When did you start coaching, take me through your first game as coach?

In 2009, while on S6 vacation, Namilyango College coach Fred Mudoola was banned from the touch line. So he tasked me to come and monitor whether his messages were being carried along. I was his mouth piece. After filling in for Fred, his ban ended and got busy. So I kept on going with the team and players kept listening to me. I honestly don’t remember my first game. A lot of memories have popped up of those days.

What do you think is the primary difference between coaching kids and old men?

Kids are always willing to learn even when repeating the drills. Men have problems to overcome in their life, easily get bored and feel they have arrived. Fans will demand them to play and influence the player’s decision making process. Kids will always follow the process except for the few exceptional ones.

What kind of legacy would you want to leave behind?

Rugby always wins. I just want Ugandan rugby to be competitive, interesting and enjoyable to everyone involved. I will leave those who will be around to determine what my legacy was. I have just added a small phrase to the Ugandan rugby history books.

You have coached many players, which player is that you knew from day one that he would be a star and why?

Ivan Magomu was already a star when I coached him.

Wanyama Conrad, this kid hated losing. One time the ladies team came to Namilyango College for a trial game. We decided to play the U17 team not to harm the ladies. Wanyama never got the memo of an easy, easy game. He suplexed a lady and was warned and did it again a minute later. He was red carded for the safety of the ladies. I heard him say, there is no easy once you step on pitch. His attitude and self-belief were sky high. I even followed him to London College. We were going to do great things but our time was cut short.

Massa Isaac was a fly half from Buddo when we started coaching at London College. He was lazy, adored by the fans and multi-talented. We moved him across different backline positions, he adopted and made them his. He even taught me how to dance.

Frank Kakula as well. I played him for the anchors team while in F2. Calvin Gizamba also wowed me.