Tokyo Olympics wake-up call for Rugby 7s Cranes

Saturday December 19 2020
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Grab that history. The Rugby 7s Cranes have to take every one of their chances with the rubber egg during the penultimate final Olympic qualifier in Monaco. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE.

By Deus Bugembe

June was when the Rugby Sevens Cranes were to play in the final qualification round of the Tokyo Olympics in Biarritz, France. 
Uganda and 11 other countries; Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico, France, Ireland, Samoa, Tonga, Zimbabwe, China and Hong Kong were to grind for the last Olympics spot.

Unfortunately, the showpiece was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the Olympics too pushed to the summer 2021, World Rugby earlier in the week confirmed the final rugby Olympics qualifying round is slated for next year on the weekend of June 19-20 in Monaco, France, at the Stade Louis II Stadium.

 “The postponed Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead next year “with or without Covid,” said John Coates ,the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee in June to BBC sports, calling them the “Games that conquered Covid”. 

It was always going to take a mother of miracles for Uganda to land that final spot against more studded sides but perhaps challenge like they fit in there. 

The side coached by Kenyan-born Tolbert Onyango started the year on a high, finishing in the top eight of the inaugural World Challenger Series in Uruguay and Chile.

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Closer yet far

Ninth place in Uruguay collected them eight points to make it 19 having collected 11 in Chile the previous weekend. 
They finished seventh overall to land a fourth Hong Kong Sevens ticket on the bounce. Hong Kong was supposed to offer Onyango’s boys a template for the Olympics qualifiers but it too was cancelled,  leaving players inactive to date.

A second place finish at last year’s Rugby Africa Sevens Championship hosted in South Africa booked Uganda a place in the final qualification round.  Winners Kenya got the direct ticket to Japan. 

A quick scan spells that Uganda’s opponents for the Monaco fest have been putting in the hard work as rugby back home is set to resume on January 23, not factoring in whether the January 14 presidential election will also have it’s toll on the restart. 

Rugby Sevens captain Michael Wokorach is aware of the impact of a player being competitively inactivity like the case here. 
“Players have a lot of work to put in before the games begin if they are to hit required levels. Many will even struggle to post 20 minutes of competitive rugby,”  Wokorach told this newspaper a few weeks ago. 

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No stopping me. The Rugby 7s Cranes were too good for opponents in the pool of the Africa qualifiers in 2019.PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE.

Considering that rugby’s shorter version code is one of the most gruelling team sports in the world, Onyango should assemble his troops as soon as possible to avoid being a laughing stock in Monaco.

If Uganda somehow manage to punch above their muscles in Monaco and sneak into the Olympics, the waiting cast includes holders Fiji, hosts Japan, USA, New Zealand, South Africa,  Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), Kenya, Canada, Australia, Argentina and South Korea. 

Rugby was first played at the Olympics in Rio 2016 where it was an instant hit. The Tokyo games should pick up from where the Brazil edition left with a tighter race expected. 

Solid CV
One can put up an argument that the Rugby Cranes Sevens side has been the most successful national side in the last five years. 

Appearances in two African championiships in 2016 and 2017, a World Cup berth in San Francisco, USA in 2018 and three consecutive Hong Kong World Series Qualifier appearances from 2017-2019 are major milestones for a country where the game still swims in amateur waters.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification would be a big ask but it’s another chance to enhance the reputation of a team that has responded to so many queries already. 

7s Cranes in last 5 years 

Africa Cup winners 2016 and 2018
Played at the 2018 World Cup 
Three Hong Kong qualifiers appearances 
Coach:     Tolbert Onyango
Captain:     Michael Wokorach 
Vice captain:     Phillip Wokorach

Tokyo Olympics finalists 

Japan (hosts)
Fiji (Defencing champions)
USA
New Zealand
South Africa
Great Britain
Kenya
Canada
Australia
Argentina
South Korea

Africa 7s 2019

Pool results
Uganda 57-0 Mauritius 
Uganda 33-17 Namibia
Uganda 7-24 Kenya
Uganda 52-12 Senegal 
Semifinal
Uganda 21-12 Zimbabbwe
Final
Uganda 0-29 Kenya

dbugembe@ug.nationmedia.com

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