Mubiru: Curtains draw on career of longevity

Mubiru retires as Uganda's most decorated rugby player. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

The former 8th man/lock says Mubiru was an organizer of the Ugandan pack and had a flawless command of the lineout throw.

Your eye will not fail to catch Alex Mubiru. Fully strapped, scrum cap on and a No.2 jersey that he made his own for Heathens and Uganda Rugby Cranes.

Commitment. Hard work. Leadership. Loyalty. Focus. It's no wonder he is the most decorated rugby player in the history of the sport in Uganda with more than 25 major national trophies.

But that is no more, as he calls time on his illustrious career.

Peter Ofong (RIP) was a Uganda rugby encyclopedia of sorts. In 2017, he told me there will never be another Alex Mubiru.

“He is a warrior, a grafter. He can play six games a day. When he retires, we shall never see another hooker like him," Ofong said, assuredly. 

A true sportsman

Mubiru started out as a baseball player at Kyambogo College and the national U-15 team in the Africa Baseball Championships. He also played cricket for the college team.

That is the background for his lineout ball accuracy. “You will see many throwers going straight ball, but I can do a lob throw like the ones in baseball or cricket.”

After seeing the likes of Anthony Kinene, Ramsey Olinga and Brian Tabaruka doing rugby, Mubiru fell for the oval ball. He started out as a flanker. Tito Okuku, then Heathens captain, liked them and urged them to keep coming. Ian Walker was the coach.

“Rugby came off as a sport of brotherhood. I worked hard and joined Heathens in 2003 and that is why I haven’t played for any other team in the National League,” Mubiru stresses.

Earning his national 7s team debut in 2004 in Dubai 7s, followed by the 15s debut in 2005, Mubiru has been a mainstay.

Walker describes Mubiru as incredibly fit, hardworking and extremely supportive of his teammates. According to Walker, Mubiru is head and shoulders with the best rugby players in the history of Ugandan rugby, and the best hooker, ever.

Committed to the bone

Over time, veterans have found it challenging trying to show the young Turks around the ropes. Things have changed. Today, a youngster is a “superstar” even before cutting their teeth, thanks majorly to social media.

Teams do photoshoots to endorse sponsor brands. For Mubiru and his ilk, sometimes this is so plastic. In October 2019, Hima Cement renewed their sponsorship to Heathens. There was a photoshoot for the whole team, but the organizers delayed.

“Today is a training day and they are eating into our time. If the photoshoot doesn’t happen in 20 minutes I won't be part of it. Training is training and should never be interrupted. If we don’t train and perform, the sponsors will be the first to ask questions,” he roared.

With other players smiling for the cameras, Mubiru was running around Kyadondo, warming up by throwing balls to imaginary jumpers.  On the pitch, Mubiru was one audible voice of motivation.

He has an eye for emerging hookers and singlehandedly took Faragi Odugo and Ronald Kanyanya under his wings, tutored them into the Rugby Cranes hookers we see today.

King of Africa

Undoubtedly, the 2007 continental triumph ranks top for all involved. Uganda shocked the world by emerging top in Africa. Chester Williams (RIP), the sole black player in South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning squad, was the coach. The preparations were top notch and the Ugandans got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to camp in Pretoria and train with the Blue Bulls franchise.

Mubiru was put under the tutelage of Springbok hooker, Chiliboy Ralepelle and to date, they are still friends. Before Siya Kolisi became the first black (Test) captain for the Springboks, the honor fell to Ralepelle.

In 2006, South Africa toured the Northern Hemisphere. Ralepelle was named as captain for the match against the World XV at Walkers Stadium in Leicester, becoming the first black player to captain them. By osmosis, Mubiru shares this success.

Mubiru remembers the Chester days with fondness. He drilled them into a killer force that shocked Kenya in Nairobi and Namibia in Kampala.

“Namibia had professional players but we beat them. I made a try-saving tackle near the posts that I will never forget. At the end of the match they thought we were professionals when actually we were just amateur players…”

That team hunted together like lions. That is why some, like Matthias Ochwo, have become brothers. Eddie Jones, former England coach, famously said that a jumper should look at a thrower and just read the call. The telepathy must be natural. That was Mubiru and Ochwo.

Their relationship goes way deep. When Uganda got relegated to the Africa Tier B in 2013, Ochwo unofficially retired. Mubiru visited him thrice to convince him back.

“We were losing the best jumper, a tough man in the pack. The team was young and still needed us. We came back and regained our place in Tier 1A in 2015, played on and both of us registered our 50 caps in 2017,” he recalls.

Right time to leave?

Last month, Mubiru played 110 minutes in both the semi and finals of Uganda Cup, against Kobs and Pirates, respectively. He says he had it all penciled in his head that after 20 seasons, his time to quit the dance floor had come.

“I will keep around and maybe help the team when required in other capacities. It is what I have told the top people at Kyadondo. But that’s a big if maybe because for now I want to cool off,” he stresses.

His Kenyan friend, Hilary Itela, knows how tough it is to move away completely.

“Rugby is like a bug. Nobody really retires. Retirement is a loose word,” he says.

Itela, a former Kenya Lions prop, has known Mubiru for close to 20 years.

“He was never the biggest on the pitch but had the heart of a lion. I sparred against him on a couple of occasions. We had many battles. He won some. But I won the most. His commitment to the game was unparalleled. Few players have had the ability to play for two decades at the top,” adds Itela, Director of Kenya Rugby Union until August 2022.

All hail the man

Brian Tabaruka was there when Mubiru joined Heathens, they won everything and formed a friendship that still lasts today. Tabaruka, the current club chairman at Kyadondo, knows that they can't afford to lose Mubiru entirely.

“We fought many battles together. He brings the best out of everyone. When I announced that I was quitting as Heathens coach, he told me they will win and send me off well. That came in the 2015 Uganda Cup final. That surely summarizes him. He fights till the last minute and we are going to miss that element,” said Tabaruka.

Rugby Hall of Famers Humphrey Kayange and Collins Injera are his buddies. Simiyu Wangila was Kenya Lions team manager for 15 years. He also managed the Elgon Warriors, a combined team of Kenya and Uganda players that played against English Counties. Mubiru was part of it.

“He was a very instrumental No.2 player and gave us Kenyans a very hard time in the tournaments we played. Due to his discipline he has managed to stay focused till now. l salute him with a lot of respect,” says Wangila.

Andrew Amonde is widely known for his prowess on the World 7s circuit stage. Captaining Kenya's Olympic 7s sevens team at the 2016 Olympics is no mean feat.

He credits Mubiru for being a humble, hardworking and consistent player. They first faced off in 2006 at Kyadondo in Amonde’s debut for the Kenyan 15s team.

“Mubiru was a physical player with a good, balanced skill set. A great servant to the world of rugby and Uganda. I am honored to have had a chance to play against him. I am sure he will be missed as he starts a new chapter in his life.”

Amonde is quick to add that retirement is challenging and very exciting, and hopes Mubiru can transition into a coach and give back to the young generation.

Further south of the continent, Mubiru had his fair share in Uganda vs Zimbabwe battles. Constantine ‘Costa’ Dinha played 98 times for the Sables, 40 of them as captain.

As the team leader, Dinha had to research his opponents. That is how he got to know Mubiru as ‘a fierce competitor and a gentleman off the park but an enemy on it’. They first faced off in Bulawayo in 2011.

The former 8th man/lock says Mubiru was an organizer of the Ugandan pack and had a flawless command of the lineout throw.

“Retirement is the most difficult thing any sportsman can accept, because you are admitting that ‘my time is up’, which competitive people like us don't take lightly,” he said.

Daily Monitor’s Deus Bugembe chips in, too. On one of those tours to Kenya for Elgon Cup, Mubiru told Bugembe not to worry about accommodation. His legion of former opponents across the border accorded Mubiru and Bugembe the best treatment a visitor could ever wish for.

“Mubiru is actually big and more respected in Kenya than here. Everyone was extending their hand to greet him, with a lot of respect. He is a living legend,” adds Bugembe.

As he bids goodbye to playing, Mubiru prays that conditions get better in future. “There should be a deliberate policy by the URU executive, clubs, the medical society and schools for player safety and welfare as it is on the top of all sports across the world,” he concludes.

Mubiru knows that God blessed him immensely and he returns all the glory. He credits his family for the unwavering support, plus his old roots in the cricket and baseball upbringing. Fans, team managers, doctors and friends will now have to get used to seeing him enjoying from the other side of the field.

For Ofong, wherever he is, he must be smiling down that his words have come to pass. “There is only one Alex Mubiru”.


Name: Alex Mubiru

Nickname: Musava

Position: Hooker

Club: Heathens

Occupation: IT Specialist

Highest moment: Winning Africa Cup in 2007

Lowest moment: Loss to Morocco in 2006


52 Test matches

1x: 2007 CAR 1A 15s

1x: 2015 CAR 1B 15s

3x: Elgon Cup (2006, 2012, 2015)

12x: Premiership League titles

8x: Uganda Cup

8x: Nationals 7S

4x: Mak 10s

1x: Inter University 15s trophy (2006)

1x: Coached Smack to first ever schools title (2009)


*Last captain to beat Kenya in Kenya, 2013

*Captained Elgon Warriors vs England Counties



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