In the recent past, Ugandan rugby has had a fair share of young lads rising up to the big stage and exhibiting talent and skill in the sport to the awe of their clubs, fans and rivals.
From Justin Kimono who, within a year after leaving high school, was a senior national team debutant (before he made his U19 debut) and had been top scorer at the Bamburi Super Series in 2011 to Philip Wokorach who needs no introduction and the likes of Ivan Magomu, Joseph Aredo, Desire Ayera, each year has unveiled its own exceptional individuals.
However, this season has been unlike any other. According to statistics and match reports, it has to a greater extent been dominated by experienced individuals, who have spent at least two seasons in top-flight rugby. Some have even hit the decade mark already but they are still firing from all cylinders – round of applause for Scott Olouch.
It is, therefore, more challenging to pick the most outstanding ‘rookie’ out of the crop playing their first season in open-age rugby, but it is important to point out those who have stood up to be counted among the top performers.
In no particular order, here is a list of some of the young lads who would be nominated to take home the Rookie Of The Year Award (if any, that is) at the end of the Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier League 2019/20 season:
- Karim Arinaitwe (Kobs)
Kobs could probably be the club with the stiffest competition for game time, especially in the backs. But with Adrian Kasito and Joseph Aredo away a couple of times on national duty, Karim Arinaitwe has earned the favour of coach Davis Kyewalabye’s eye as an option in the full-back position.
Arinaitwe has showcased positional awareness to be in the right place at the right time for ball reception off kicks and make try saving tackles. He possesses the requirements of a good fullback – hands, boot and pace, and knows when to utilise each of them without pressure.
He is not only exciting to watch but also knows how to put points on the scoreboard. A single try and two conversions in his first senior season so far have been recorded.
Within the ranks at the Blue Army, he could be the leader of the next generation that includes Samuel Tugabirwe, Ibrahim Khemis and others yet to graduate from championship outfit Boks.
- Ariho Muhumuza (Impis)
Makerere Impis’ development model is one that provides a platform for players to transition from schools rugby to club rugby while hoping that a number can stay a few more seasons after their university days without being wooed away by “bigger” clubs.
This season has seen the advent of a young and fresh player at The Graveyard by the names of Ariho ‘Baker’ Muhumuza.
Described by club spokesperson, Egumire Nnyombi as one of the most versatile forwards he has seen, Ariho has shown that yet again, good rugby players can come from outside the Ivy League.
Muhumuza joined Impis as a hooker – his preferred position during high school, but was played at prop and for the greater part of this season, he was at lock until a knee injury sustained in Jinja pushed him to the sidelines.
The young and vibrant player was thrown into the deep end of top tier club rugby but has been able to kick his feet and stay afloat at the newly promoted university outfit.
Taking a look within the playing department at The Graveyard, Amanya Benjamin who has the build (tall with long limbs) and virgin style of play (deceptive pace and affinity for contact at the center of the pitch) that fits the bill for your typical lock has yet to break through the hierarchy at the club but has been an impressive revelation.
- Humphrey Tashobya (Black Pirates)
A graduate from the championship side Sailors, the slender forward has been a regular within Coach Bobby Musinguzi’s ranks.
Humphrey Tashobya has earned his stripes by his simple yet exquisite performance in the lineouts.
On offense, he has provided jumping options in the lineout with Kelvin Balagadde and Frank Kidega who, in total, have had big shoes to fill in veterans Marvin Odongo, Ronald Tusiime and Joel Anguyo while on defense, his lightweight frame has made him the go-to man for the number 2 jumper.
Despite being without a try to his name yet this season, Tashobya is a worthy definition of unsung hero for the Black Pirates. He has fit seamlessly into the expansive style of the Sea Robbers.
Noteworthy mention from King’s Park Bweyogerere includes Andrew Maivy and Sydney Gongodyo – who evoke memories of Springboks’ ‘Bomb Squad’ with their off-the-bench performance.
- Joshua Engwau (Black Pirates)
From the legendary Dennis Etuket to Baron Kasozi who scored tries for fun, Black Pirates has never fallen short of talented wingers.
Joshua Engwau, only in his second year since leaving schools rugby, has shown that he could be making his first steps along the path those before him, including Raymond Emanzi & Timothy Odongo, have trodden.
Engwau has scored three tries in nine appearances, including a beautiful solo effort at Kyadondo where he split apart the entire Rams defense and all have been a manifestation of one thing, this youngster’s blistering pace.
There is a number of other new faces to the scene who have had a taste of open age rugby, and they have shown that they have it inside them to make it to the top in the future.
- Moses Laboke (Mongers)
- Samir Din (Warriors)
- Plan Akampurira (Kobs)
- Brian Oroma (Mongers)
- Cyprian Banyanga (Rhinos)
It is without a doubt that one of the above names and those yet to stake a claim in their debut season, will develop into Ugandan rugby’s next big thing.