What’s dehorning rugby Rhinos?

Saturday November 14 2020
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Martial Tchumuka looking upset during a past game.

By Deus Bugembe

Rhinos Rugby Club could have easily turned out as prestigious as the other top three sides in Kobs, Heathens and Pirates but are yet to win anything since inauguration. 

They have had some admirable players down the lane on top of being one of the oldest clubs in the country .They can be forgiven for having an empty trophy cabinet after all the class is big.

When they acquired the services of Brian Makalama to replace Herbert Wafula as coach in 2016, the entire rugby fraternity thought they smelt something aromatic wafting from the kitchens of Rhinos.

Days of sweet dreams
They had the financial backing from Rimula, consequently being labelled the Shell Rimula Rhinos, in a deal that came with Scot Olouch as the most prolific joined by Mathias Ochwo, a vastly experienced player with the right mentality to carry the side forward. 

Byron Otekayot was touted to be the next big thing and Rhinos scored big when they beat off Heathens and Kobs for his signature. 

Jasper Onen, too, joined from Kenya and he looked like that missing piece of a puzzle that had been found – Rhinos needed a fly half who could stamp his authority on a game and in Onen they had one. 

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A promising Stallone Arinanitwe was also added to the new-look roster. Even rivals were hoodwinked that Rhinos was ready to compete for titles yet four years later, they remain trophy-less and fighting at the wrong end of the Nile Special Premiership table.

For long spells of the 2019/20 league campaign, Rhinos looked out of their depth and were odds on favourites to get relegated until the Covid-19 pandemic halted the league. 

Even seasoned relegation candidates, Impis, fancied themselves to stay up at their expense. 
How things culminated that low is intriguing. From making statements like “We want to win everything from the Uganda Cup to the league. Things are going to be different and no one should take us lightly,” by Makalama in 2016 to “We have to get some points on board. We can’t afford to stay in this position and things have to change or else we are in trouble,” by Francis Odonga last season, Rhinos have their work cut out. 

Lady luck was on their side as the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) ruled out relegation after the season was cancelled but for how long will they ride on luck before they find themselves in a ditch?

Where did it all go wrong?
Makalama’s first season in charge had Rhinos finishing third. There was only one place to go from there, up to second or first. Expectations were met as Rhinos finished second the subsequent season and all seemed to be going well until Makalama got the sack midway into his third campaign. 

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From dreams to stragglers. Youngsters like Sulaiman Ngobi (left) will have to step up next season. PHOTO/EDDIE CHICCO

Rhinos took the decision days after losing to Heathens to drop out of the title race. 
“After reviewing the performance of the club so far in the 2017/18 season, the Executive Committee of Rhinos RFC has decided to exercise its right to release Brian Makalama from his contract as head coach with immediate effect,” read a statement that left many baffled. 

Makalama had been building something special but his bosses were after quick results. In came John Musoke and Ochwo in interim capacities as the Executive Committee decides on permanent placements for head coach role and other soon-to-be announced structural changes at the club.

“It all started after the 2018/19 campaign when many of our senior players did not return,” team manager Joseph Bugabo told SCORE. 

Bugabo, who had hung up his boots, was at one time forced to look for them – his side had failed to make up the numbers. 

“We had to recruit young players from school,” recalls Bugabo. 
In an amateur sport like rugby in Uganda where players easily move onto better paying opportunities, clubs depend on reliable recruitment structures of sponsors to foot players’ wages and allowances. 

Musoke and Ochwo took over on interim basis to the end of the season but the pair were a no-show the next year with Martial Tchumkam coming in assisted by Ivan Markmot.
The 2018/19 season tested Rhinos’ resolve as key players left.

“We resorted to using young and inexperienced players who were not ready and inconsistent,” recalls Tchumkam, who at some stage got busy with work engagements while Markmot got caught in Kyambogo’s struggle for promotion. 

A turn for the worst
Bugabo and Helen Buteme would chip in as tutors but the mess kept growing. Without a coach and sponsor-less after Shell Rimula walked away, Tchumkam knew rough times were coming. 

“We expected things to be quite tough but not this bad. I never thought we would end up at the bottom,” he said.

Captain Arnold Kiiza admits the tide got the better of his side but there is room for improvement. 
The new season is expected to kick off in January and Rhinos’ check list is lengthy. 

“Last year was challenging but we learnt the hard way. We’ll definitely improve as long as we build on what we started last year, work on our team chemistry and hope some of the experienced players can return,” Kiiza added.

Finishing rock bottom of the league last season must have been an eye opener at Rhinos and for a club of its calibre, answers are needed before they turn into another joke.

Like they say, a rhino is defined by its precious horn but will definitely remain a rhino even if poachers did the dirty work on it. However, a rugby rhino would surely lose the right to identify with one of the strongest mammals on earth if it got relegated – relegation is for those not good enough.

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The size that mattered. Makalama’s stewardship of Rhinos saw them finish second compared to seasons after his sack. PHOTO/EDDIC CHICCO

Rhinos’ history

  • They have never been relegated.  
  • They host the coronation sevens in conjunction with the Buganda Kingdom 
  • They originated from Impis which started in 1989. Information is scanty on when they exactly broke away. 
  • Team colours are yellow and black. 
  • Home Ground is Legends Rugby Club
  • Chairman is Alex Kalimugogo 
  • Team captain : Arnold Kiiza 
  • Patron : Danny Kaggwa
  • Legends: John Musoke, Mathias Ochwo,  Timothy Buloti.
  • Coach: Martial Tchumkam
  • Team manager: Joseph Bugabo
  • Titles: None

dbugembe@ug.nationmedia.com

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