Kenya v Uganda in the Elgon Cup at RFUEA Grounds, Nairobi (2018). Credit: APO Group

In Ugandan rugby, it is very unusual for one to be named Man Of The Match when they’re part of the losing team in that match. Across the Eastern border marked by the elegant Elgon mountain however, brilliant performances are appreciated regardless of the result.

And in 2016, despite being on the losing side in the return leg of the Elgon Cup, the Man Of The Match award was won by a Uganda Rugby Cranes player. An outstanding performance from the gem that is Philip Wokorach in what could be one of his best displays we have seen.

Having pored over the replay of the match for hours on Kenya Rugby TV in the past week and done a statistical analysis here on Kawowo Sports, I felt it would be worthwhile to shine the spotlight on Wokorach’s performance in that game.

Two tries – one in each half – scored from two different positions and four points off the boot as extras, Wokorach was in his element throughout the game. His attempted drop goal from the center sailed wide to the left of the uprights just after kick-off and he was still steering Uganda’s attack late in the game.

Wokorach played 53 minutes in the fullback position and shifted to flyhalf for the remainder of the game after Ivan Magomu was replaced by Joseph Aredo.

Anatomy of the tries

Ten minutes in, and Kenya Simbas XV looked like they were going to simply run over the Uganda Rugby Cranes. They had scored two quick tries through Ronnie Mwenesi and David Ambunya by that time and the Rugby Cranes needed something to get them back into the game.

Then Philip Wokorach happened. Calmly collecting a Tony Onyango kick exiting his red zone, Wokorach kicked a chip and chase that was untidy to regather against a rushing Kenya defense. But he was able to dive onto the ball and offload to Ivan Magomu who sprinted over for the first try.

Three minutes later, there was some razzle-dazzle stuff as he beat the Simbas XV line defense from deep inside his territory to put the Rugby Cranes into the lead. A set-piece try from a scrum just outside the 22m territory after a handling error from the restart. Marvin Odongo and Davis Kyewalabye combined for the 8-9 move to the blind side on the left and the ball was quickly passed to Wokorach.

He kicked a long chip and chase to beat the first defender before outpacing two backs to retain possession. Then he did it again. The second chip and chase put him swiftly past his opposite number Tony Onyango inside the Simbas XV half. Inside the 22m territory, he added a short grubber kick to regather the kick and go over for the try.

Three players. Two passes. Three kicks. And over 88 meters gained in territory. It was a well-worked team try with the individual brilliance of Wokorach carrying them home.

The conversion added ticked the score over into Uganda’s hands at 12-14. But only for a moment as Kenya would ultimately go on to win the match.

His second try was a thing of beauty. To borrow the words of the commentator: “Oh my goodness, Philip Wokorach! And a try from Philip Wokorach! Myyy goodness, this man has singlehandedly sliced and diced the Simbas XV defense from every angle possible.”

At the end of four phases from the forwards inside the Simbas XV territory, Wokorach caught the folding defense off balance with a quick pick-and-drive from the breakdown just 5 metres shy of the whitewash. He beat three defenders with sharp steps and a spin before stretching over to ground the ball as James Kanyebe held on to his ankle.

The Kicking Game

Being a fullback – and flyhalf – involves a great deal of kicking and one needs to have a steady boot. The kicking game wasn’t the highlight of Wokorach’s game on the day, as there were a number of below-par attempts both in open play and off the tee.

Some penalties were within kickable territory but the Rugby Cranes opted to find touch while only 50% of the conversion attempts were successful.

However, Wokorach’s partnership with winger James Odongo checked all the boxes at the restarts. The pair, who have played club rugby in Kenya, was tasked with getting the Rugby Cranes going again with the restart kicks. And they coordinated well to win back 56% of them.

Defensive woes

Defense has always been the chink in Philip Wokorach’s armour. His tackling always comes into question when faced with one-on-one situations against attackers not afraid to take him on. At fullback, he is protected by the backs’ defensive line but at flyhalf, he is as exposed as can get.

During this match, Wokorach’s defensive woes manifested when he switched to flyhalf. With forwards and centers running straight at him, he had a 67% tackle success rate of 6 attempted tackles.

However, he compensates favourably with his strengths going forward with ball in hand. And on this clear sunny day at Ngong Road, he showed what a marvel of a player he is.

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

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