The rise and rise of fast-flowing Nile Rapids

Nile Rapids celebrate winning the Uganda Cup. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

Despite their inexperience and a lack of preparation, Nile Rapids debuted in the Cup with a bang! They thrashed Kabale Berg Princesses 81-00 in their opening game in Group A on December 9 and followed it with another resounding 61-15 victory over Gulu Sprinters to secure their place in the semi-finals.

The Nile Rapids, just like the name suggests, have risen rapidly to the top of women’s rugby. An unknown entity some years back has risen from zero to hero in just a short period of time.

The Rapids, a sister to Jinja Hippos, left rugby enthusiasts awed with their crude but entertaining rugby that conquered the Uganda Cup. And believe it or not, that was their first serious engagement in the traditional 15s rugby.


The team traces its roots back to Spire Lions, an age-grade team that was born at Spire Primary School about 2km from the source of the River Nile.

The Lions started in 2014 as a product of the Tag Rugby project. The idea was birthed and conceived by Soita Iddi and managed by Martha Nakale, Meddie Mapeesa alongside Benson Ofoyrwoth. Mapeesa plays for Jinja Hippos.

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“Spire Lions was started by Soita Iddi at Spire Road and then there was another group led by Mapesa at Dam Waters,” Nakale narrates the genesis.

“We decided to combine the two and moved to Dam Waters because it was easier for the kids to converge there,” she says.

Nakale, who was joining Kyadondo Rugby Club about the same time, came in handy and mobilized a few friends to support the cause financially. They include Kenneth Kaheru who funded most of the team’s travel budgets while former Hippos coach Saidi Atibu provided the international connections that mainly donated kits.

Hippos call

The club was hit hard around 2018 when the boys’ side lost a player Emmanuel Muwanguzi. That hit Nakale hard, left her depressed and forced her to the shadows.

“I decided to take the back seat because I was dealing with depression over losing a child (Muwanguzi).

“So I decided to have Mapeesa and Soita take the lead, a job I did well because they had started nurturing other mentors,” she continues.

Through the somber mood came a silver lining: an opportunity to merge for a bigger brand. Hippos, another tenant at the same venue, had started gaining traction around 2019 and needed to expand. Then there was a requirement from the Uganda Rugby Union for premiership teams to form female sides.

“Hippos had started gaining success and then Tim [Groover] (Hippos technical director) approached [us] though it was not the best of ways that Spire [Lions] was taken over but rugby needed to grow,” Nakale hints on the bittersweet takeover by Hippos.

Spire Lions had both boys and girls. The boys’ team formed the Kiira Crocs that feed the Hippos. A bulk of the players won the 2022 Nile Special National Sevens with Hippos. 

Then, the girls team was renamed Nile Ripples, who later progressed to Nile Rapids.

The Nile Ripples struggled to find the flow in the initial phase because of rocky financial constraints until 2021 when Hippos management paid more attention.

Akello is a gem a playmaker. OHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

“Hippos and Tim really took over in 2021 but during that period of transition, we were more of affiliated to than part of them because we catered for the finances and most of the things,” she sums the transition.

“It's difficult to tell the Nile Rapids' story without mentioning Spire Lions, a toto club that originated at Spire Primary School,” Hippos spokesperson William Mwijuka acknowledges.

The pillar

The Spire Lions was not complete unto itself. The girls’ team found and formed its pillars at Parvatiben Muljibhai Madvani (PMM) Girls School as told by the team’s captain Akello.

“We started with the team [Spire Lions] but because we were in a strict school, it was hard to train at Dam Waters during school days,” Akello explains.

Some of the other Rapids’ players who passed through the Spire Lions project and PMM include Minat Namono, Maureen Ajune and Loy Nakirya.

A bigger bunch of the boys’ side studied at Jinja SSS where they did the same but later on started attracting some girls to join rugby. The girls then converged at PMM to train together.

“We were four at first but started training girls at our school (PMM) and then coach Mapeesa started coming to train us. Later on, the players at Jinja SSS joined us.”

Sacrificing for the cause

Hippos appointed their lock Ronald Odakai to handle the girls’ team. Odakai, who is willing to sacrifice his own career with the Hippos, has done a commendable job despite numerous hurdles.

“Trying to introduce girls into rugby is hard because of the external obstacles but it is worth the sweat for me,” Odakai says.

Odakai’s calm demeanor and a good ear has endeared himself to the girls. His methods have softened the hearts of many teachers and parents to let their girls play.

He has made the training sessions, albeit limited, worth it and pulled the numbers to build a solid team over the last two or so years.

Nile Rapids flyhalf Tina Akello's mercurial kicking got her the Most Valuable Player (MVP) gong. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

Over time, they've played a host of friendly matches to build their CV before earning their first invitation for a major tournament in May last year. The Rapids were among 17 teams that graced a tournament organized by URU in partnership with the Rotary Club of Kisugu in a campaign to end gender violence.

“Our first serious tournament was the Rotary Sevens where we were invited to play at Kyadondo and finished fourth,” Akello smiles. The good run also earned them a place in the national sevens.

The next tournament was the 2023 Uganda Cup where they side-stepped everyone to win their first-ever title.

Uganda cup fairytale

To start with, the Rapids were not registered to play in the Uganda Cup but received a late wild card after Entebbe Lady Swans pulled out.

“To be honest, we were not even training because there was no money and our focus was on the league,” Akello reveals.

“So when they called us, we gathered up for a week and then played our first game.”

Despite their inexperience and a lack of preparation, Nile Rapids debuted in the Cup with a bang! They thrashed Kabale Berg Princesses 81-00 in their opening game in Group A on December 9 and followed it with another resounding 61-15 victory over Gulu Sprinters to secure their place in the semi-finals.

Big Brother’s hand

But before reaching there, Rapids were subjected to a reality check by then-defending champions Avengers in their last game of the pools. They lost 38-06.

“That is when we were exposed!" Akello nods her head, adding, "Our backline never used the ball at all and our movements were uncoordinated.”  Rapids sought for help from their experienced big brother Hippos.

“That made us start serious training but most importantly, the coach brought a number of boys from Hippos like Yassin [Wasswa] to train with us so that we can learn.”

And true indeed, they learnt something from both the beating and the tips from Hippos. The Rapids found themselves on the back foot again, this time trailing Black Pearls 26-14 at the break in their semifinal but they hatched a plan.

“Coach Saidi [Atibu] sat us down at half time and opened our eyes that there was only one person running their game, so we devised a strategy."

Patrica Nakiranda went for an early tackle on Hellen Acanit and that was all. Acanit slowed down her speed and Rapids took charge from there winning 27-26.

Akello, a former Black Pearls player, was all over the Avengers in the final. The Bachelor of Commerce student at MUBS produced one of the best ever one-man shows in the country scoring all the team’s points as Rapids emerged 25-17 victors. For her, the journey to greatness has just started and with their big brother setting the pace, she and her teammates believe the path to glory has already been set.


Name – Nile Rapids

Junior Team – Nile Ripples

Male’s team – Jinja Hippos

Coach – Ronald Odakai

Captain – Tina Akello

Home ground – Dam Waters

Founded – 2019

Achievements – 2023 Nile Special Uganda Cup winners

Division – Women’s premiership