It has been an agonizing wait for the return to play of rugby in many countries globally. Some, like New Zealand and Australia, have since resumed with domestic Super Rugby competitions while others continue to wait.

Due to the restrictions and guidelines to control the spread of the coronavirus from the government, Uganda’s wait is already past the 100-days mark. And chances of any rugby being played this year get slimmer with each passing day.

At the beginning of June, Rugby Africa resolved to cancel the 2020 continental season and at the end of the same month, World Rugby cancelled the colourful HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020.

Looking at Uganda specifically, in the fifteens format of the sport, not a single test match was, and will be, played in 2020 by both the men’s and women’s national teams.

The Rugby Africa Cup and Rugby Africa Women’s Cup were set to commence from May 30 through to August 2. The continent’s biggest rivalry, Elgon Cup, was due for June.

These cancelled or postponed tournaments, and others that were yet to be confirmed will be a massive hit.

Uganda Rugby Cranes, the men’s national fifteens team, plays an annual average of less than 5 international test matches. The Lady Rugby Cranes play even fewer tests.

Lady Cranes execute a lineout against South Africa. Credit: Rugby Africa. Credit: Rugby Africa

A Rugby World Cup cycle is the period from one rugby world cup final to the next rugby world cup final – Rugby World Cup is held every four years. On average, according to the 1014 Rugby in their analysis of the Rugby World Cup 2019, a Rugby World Cup winning side plays 52 test matches in a single Rugby World Cup cycle.

This is more than twice what Uganda, and other lower-tier rugby playing countries, achieve in the same cycle. There is a lot more to say about how this affects the nation’s ambitions of qualifying for the next Rugby World Cup.

When you look back at the 2019 fifteens campaign, the Lady Rugby Cranes had started on the rising curve after nearly 4-5 years without test rugby. We were looking up to 2020 to build up onto that opportunity.

We had laid out a 4-year plan to qualify for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup having missed out for the 2021 edition. This year included some short term goals to achieve but this hasn’t happened due to the pandemic.

Leonard Lubambula, Lady Rugby Cranes head coach.

In order to provide more game time and match experience, Uganda relies heavily on local competitions. That is, the Uganda Cup season-opener which includes regional teams, the national top-flight leagues, and the regional championships.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus and subsequent suspension of all sports activities did not segregate. The women had concluded their regional championships and were already preparing for the national franchise league. The men’s league was postponed until further notice with 5 match days out of 18 left to play and uncertainty looms over the Uganda Cup.

Speaking to Kratos Rugby during one of the Saturday Rugby Chats in May, Uganda Rugby Union CEO, Ramsey F. Olinga, stressed the need to reschedule the national competitions with the 2021 international season at the back of everyone’s mind.

First priority for us is to finish the (Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier) league…if we can get 5 weeks to play it. We normally work backwards from the international season (which starts around May of every year) meaning we must be able to finish our local leagues latest March or April.

Ramsey Olinga, Uganda Rugby Union CEO.

Essentially, what that means is that either the local rugby players, both men and women, will have a tight run of fixtures to make up for the lost time or they will miss out on the cancelled games which are their platform to get a nod for the national team.

The Lady Rugby Cranes technical department has not laid back and waited for the government to lift the suspension on sports, utilizing the tools available to them like social media platforms.

We have kept in touch with 85% of the team with the use of electronic communication on monitoring their day to day life, keeping them advised on what to do to keep in shape.

The 4-year cycle plan we had laid out will be re-adjusted to fit into the new year 2021 and catch up with the short term goals we had set.

Leonard Lubambula

Certainly, there is going to be a ripple effect caused by these decisions and actions. From the clubs to national duty, there will be a significant impact on the progress of the country in test rugby.

Player fitness will be in the spotlight with a focus on how long their bodies can perform at the high intensity during games when rugby returns. Both players and officials will need to be up to speed with new amendments to the laws of the game passed during the period they have been away.

However, there is some consolation in knowing that Uganda is not suffering in this predicament alone, especially in African rugby playing countries.

The million-dollar question is, what is being done to ensure Uganda makes a smooth return to rugby after this global pandemic?

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

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