Uganda Rugby Sevens training squad

For the past five years or so, of the Men’s Fifteens and Sevens Uganda national rugby teams, the latter has been the more successful outfit for obvious reasons.

The Uganda Men’s Sevens have collected along their journey back-to-back African championships and represented the country at numerous national and international tournaments like the national sevens series, Safari Sevens, the World Rugby Sevens Series, Commonwealth Games and at the greatest stage of all, the Rugby World Cup.

Uganda Rugby Sevens team lifting the 2017 Africa 7s crown at Legends

The Olympic Games is the only international tournament where the Uganda Men’s Sevens have not manifested their entertaining style of rugby, but that may not be for so long as they have one more fighting chance at the Repechage Tournament in Paris, France in June.

I could go on and on about why, despite being less popular, the Uganda Rugby Sevens have been more successful than their Fifteens counterparts but I will mention just two.

First of all, only 12 players are selected for a tournament meaning the best of the best in the country are picked. And it’s not just about having the best players at your hands that has made the difference, a great deal of these milestones, if not all, have been inspired, planned & executed by head coach Tolbert Onyango.

Coach Tolbert Onyango has been the architect of the success of the national sevens squad. Credit: AISHA NAKATO / Kawowo Sports

Secondly, the financial & logistical demands of the sevens are less than half of the fifteens which makes the team easier and cheaper to manage even when they play more away from home.

Uganda’s pool of rugby players is still so small that both national teams are forced to pick from the few familiar faces we see on a daily featuring for our favourite local clubs which, it’s important to note, play more fifteens rugby than sevens.

While the Sevens team is in camp preparing for an international tour on one side of the world, back at home the national fifteens league does not stop meaning the clubs with more players on the squad get to feel the hit harder than the rest, some of whom do not have any there.

Pius Ogena during Uganda Rugby Sevens training

One wonders, is there more to gain for the clubs having their best players away at the sevens camp than there is to lose in the national club competitions when their services are unavailable?

I believe all clubs should be glad to send their players to the elite national sevens training camp or the development sevens academy when the call comes, and here’s why…

Strength & Conditioning – The Uganda Men’s Sevens take S&C as a major priority, and it takes the bulk of their training sessions both on the pitch and in the gym. A player who has spent just four weeks in sevens camp will gain more strength than they could under the normal club program, and this comes in really handy when push comes to shove for the clubs as they struggle with diminishing fitness levels.

I must add that the players get faster from these sessions, which turns out to be blistering pace when they face opposition in the fifteens games.

Skills – It is written in the Bible that to those who have, more will be added, and this is particularly true for teams with players on the national sevens training camp. The players’ ball-handling, tackling and other vital rugby skills are refined further because of two reasons: there is more contact between the coach and players where he helps them work on their personal abilities and the quality of opposition at the sevens tournaments is at a higher level than it is on the local scene.

This may seem like it isn’t much, but looking at the past fifteens season and the current Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier League, the tabs of top performers in terms of tries scored and man of the match awards have familiar names from the sevens squad. It also goes without saying that for clubs like Black Pirates and Kobs who send the most numbers to Tolbert Onyango, their absence is felt like a hard jab from a heavyweight boxer.

Nobert Okeny Credit: Kawowo Sports | MATIAS MATUS ACEBO

As I conclude, allow me to name, without probing too much, some of the players whose rugby careers took a turn for greatness on the local scene after stints with the national sevens both in the academy & the elite Uganda Men’s Sevens. Philip “Chigas” Muhoozi, Kelvin Balagadde, Josiah Sempeke, Norbert Okeny, Levis Ocen, William Nkore, Isaac Massanganzira, Byron Oketayot, to mention but a few.

Ernest Akorebirungi is an amateur rugby player and a keen follower of local Ugandan rugby.

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