Whistle takes Musonera places in land of dreams

Musonera is going places as a rugby referee in USA. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Choosing rugby in Smack was very easy as it was the number one sport in the school. I also had the luxury of playing many other different sports like football and athletics, especially running. But In the end, rugby became my first pick as I graduated into higher classes, says Musonera 

Joshua Musonera is a level two certified referee and graded C1 with USA rugby, a place he never saw himself as a teenager coming across rugby for the first time at St. Mary’s College Kisubi (Smack).

Injuries and concussions forced him off the turf at Rhinos Rugby Football Club (RFC) but close enough in management, it is from there that a chance to take a leap into refereeing showed up, he grasped it and now hopes to take charge of a test game one day.

He spoke to Sunday Monitor on how the game of rugby is influencing his life as the man in the middle.

The Makerere University Business School graduate in Transport and Logistics Management also breaks down what comes with refereeing at that level.

When were you introduced to rugby?

I was introduced to rugby in 2007 during my first year at St. Mary’s College Kisubi. There was a tradition where the senior one class was expected to take on their senior two counterparts. I was part of a group that was madly in love with football that we did not show interest in being part of the game. However, when the big day came, our class was short on numbers, I had a primary school friend who dragged me off football practice onto the rugby field for the second half. That memory remains vivid in my head as my first touch of the rugby ball resulted in the only try for my class. From that day, rugby became my number one sport.

What made you choose the game?

Choosing rugby in Smack was very easy as it was the number one sport in the school. I also had the luxury of playing many other different sports like football and athletics, especially running. But In the end, rugby became my first pick as I graduated into higher classes.

Take us back to your playing days?

I played rugby for six years at St. Mary’s College Kisubi. I remember picking up a rugby ball with the likes of Ivan Magomu (Rugby Cranes captain), Edmond Ainomugisha, Alex Mukasa, Elax Karego among many others. Our class had an admirable number of talented lads. Winning the U-16 National Schools Title in 2009, the same year the senior team also won the school's championship was our first taste of glory.

Together with Mukasa, who was my roommate at University, we joined Rhinos after school and were lucky to be part of the club’s golden generation that almost lifted the Nile Special Rugby Premiership trophy with the likes of Martial Tchumkam, Scott Olouch, Matthias Ochwo, Kevin Makmot, Timothy Buloti, Daudi Semwami, Eric Mulamula, the Sekamwa brothers and Francis Odonga.  Not seeing myself getting regular playtime with that stacked squad, I started to get involved with the management of the club and it is at this moment that I started exploring other avenues to stay in the game.

Any highlights from your days as a player whether school or club level?

My very first time touching a rugby ball and running for the try line remains a fond memory.

Another high school memory that stands out was us winning the U-16 Championship. That same year during the National 7s Championships, our team defeated the Namilyango College senior side that had the likes of Justin Kimono, a household name in Uganda rugby, in the Semi-finals of the circuit at London College. We lost out to our senior team in the finals.

After having a stellar year, I was picked by our then coach Ronald Mutebi for trials with the national U-16 team that would represent Uganda at the craven week in South Africa. After a few months of intensive training, I was selected for the final squad but unfortunately, we did not make the trip due to reasons that were beyond our comprehension at the moment. I did not play a lot of club rugby as at that time I was dealing with so many injuries along with concussions.

As a player, did you ever see yourself become a referee one day?

At some point in my career, I saw myself picking up another role away from playing. As mentioned earlier, my playing career was riddled with injuries and concussions. I started having bad concussions in my senior four and this is when I doubled down on playing rugby. When I got into Rhinos, playing became harder as my size and previous injury problems didn’t favor me. I started to transition into management, this is when opportunities like taking the L1 refereeing course arose. 

Paint a picture on the transition from playing to being the man with the whistle?

To be honest I didn’t take refereeing seriously until I arrived in the USA. I took my L1 referee course in 2016, at the time, I took it because the union mandated each club to have a certified referee. I then could start refereeing internal scrimmages and also took up coaching for the Rhinos 7s team in 2018-2019. This turned out to be the last season as I moved to the USA that very year.  

In 2021, after the pandemic, I was approached by one of the referees in my area and this is when my career really started. I must say there are a lot of things that made me choose this career but the opportunity to be coached at almost every match stands out. Through this, I’m beginning to realize my full potential. 

What could you point out as the most difficult part of being a referee?

I could name a few things here: Mistakes are part of the game but we as referees set high standards for ourselves. So having a game decided on a referee mistake is one of the hardest things to take in.

We as referees also often face abuse from fans and coaches and this is quite frustrating! I think it’s the number one reason so many referees out there end their careers so early.

How easy/hard is the journey to becoming a referee?

To be frank my refereeing journey has quite been remarkable! Through a lot of dedication, being coached and having a charming personality, I’m quickly rising through the ranks of USA Rugby. This year has been quite a treat as I’ve refereed two National Championships and was named on the Regional Development group that comprises the top 100 referees in the country. I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully I can continue to grow both as a person and a referee.

What do you enjoy the most about the role?

Rugby has always been a game of comradeship, and this is one of the most compelling reasons I enjoy the game. I have had the pleasure to meet so many distinguished people through rugby and everyone is always welcoming and encouraging.

Also getting back home and realizing you are making an impact on the game you love is pretty surreal. I could say this role was heaven sent.

I also enjoy free travel around the country.

Rugby comes off complex for many yet you must grasp and apply all the laws accurately, how does one achieve that level of efficiency?

Any sport comes off as complex when you are a newbie to it. I think me being a student of the game since my playing time helped me to really become a better referee. I used to spend most of my weekends watching international rugby and learning how the game is called.

I must also say that the laws are always changing and being adaptable is very crucial. I take time each month to refresh my knowledge of the game through the law book and also having honest conversations with other referees on how to referee the game more accurately.

 Most irritating player you have dealt with and why?

There was this one college rugby game on a cold wet day in Massachusetts, the scrumhalf who was also captain couldn’t stop talking the entire game! His team was being given a scrimmaging masterclass and I think his frustration boiled over. I had to send him to the coolers to have a 10-minute breather.

Take us through your pre- and post-match routines?

I arrive 1 hour before kickoff, meet my hosts for the day. Change into my match day gear and stretch out. I then have a quick front row and captain talk with both teams and continue with my warm-ups.

After the games, some teams are kind enough to offer a meal or a beer and I’m good to hit the road.

Are you attached to any rugby club in the US?

As referees, we have our own local Associations and I’m with the New England Rugby Referee Society.

Which game do you dream of taking charge of?

Every referee’s dream is to get capped at the international level. Honestly, the game doesn’t matter!

How would our best players (Uganda) fare in the USA league?

That’s an interesting question. I feel like Ugandan players have a lot of talent but lack in size. The landscape of USA rugby is based on size, but I could bet you that a few of the Ugandan players would make a name for themselves in the league as dynamic diminutive players.


Name: Joshua Musonera

Role: USA Rugby referee

Society: New England Rugby Referee Society

Grade: level 2 certified (USA C1)

Playing highlights

Teams: St. Mary’s College Kisubi, Rhinos Rfc, U-16 national side

Position: Winger

Achievements: U-16 National Schools Title (2009).


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