The Elgon Cup 2018 Return Leg at the RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi was such a thriller of a match of rugby. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish both on the pitch and in the stands.
In possession of the ball, the hosts Kenya Simbas XV, even when they had already sealed the title, went on four minutes after the hooter in search of one more try. And they were rewarded with one courtesy of Moses Amusala to put the full-time score at 38-22.
There is a sad memory from this match that is yet to be forgiven and forgotten by the Uganda rugby fraternity. Marvin Odongo’s horrific collision with Vincent Mose in a dangerously high tackle just after the hour mark that resulted in a broken jaw. Many hopefuls, including myself, still dream of the day when Odongo will return to the rugby pitch once more.
But what a game that was!
Over the course of the past month, I have enjoyed watching Elgon Cup classics on the Kenya Rugby TV channel on YouTube. And while at it, I’ve published a series of statistics and analytics-based articles that highlight some aspects of the game.
In this one, I attempt to compare the performance of the players in the number 10 jersey. The flyhalf is one of the positions that make up the spine of a rugby team and it is, thus, so important that the best individual turns out in his best form during the match.
For this match, Kenya Simbas XV’s Isaac Adimo was up against Uganda Rugby Cranes’ Ivan Magomu. The pair have been described as dependable, sharp, and even best ever, for the latter, by fans and journalists in their respective countries.
Interestingly, both players are not short of drama. The height, or rather depth, of Magomu’s controversial career was in 2014 when he announced his retirement from the sport. This decision shook Ugandan rugby to the core knowing it was before he had made his national team debut. His counterpart Adimo was in 2017 dropped from the Kenya squad by then-head coach Jerome Paarwater due to discipline issues ahead of a four-nation invitational tour to Hong Hong.
Therefore, this was, if you let me say, a clash of the bad boys. And they each needed to cement their place in the squads against some stiff competition from the likes of Nato Simiyu, Philip Wokorach, Biko Adema and Paul Masendi.
This contest in 2018 that brought out the best in both playmakers was in a match which tripled up as a Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifier, Rugby Africa Gold Cup and the Elgon Cup.
Prior to this match, Adimo had been named Man Of The Match in the first leg at Legends Rugby Grounds. Kenya Simbas XV had won that match 34-16 and were on course to defend the Elgon Cup again.
Magomu was in fine form around the time too. He had inspired his club to their first-ever national league title in 20 years and they were still on course to a clean sweep of the season.
Keeping the scoreboard ticking
Without a shred of doubt, Adimo and Magomu were in the driving seat for their sides in the match. But the numbers do not do their performance any justice. In a match where 60 points were scored, only 5 were for either of them. From a Magomu try right after half time where he sold a dummy to the rushing backline and made a clean break to dive over.
It is important to note that neither was the first kicking option for points off the tee – the kickers were Darwin Mukidza for the Simbas and Philip Wokorach for the Rugby Cranes.
However, both were impressive in trying to get their sides over the whitewash and score points as their positional roles are defined.
With Ball in Hand
Kenya’s strength against Uganda is in the forwards while Uganda’s against Kenya is in the backs. And thus, Magomu was the busier of the two on the day. His creativity puts him at the centre of all action, and that is where he is needed most.
This explains why he had almost three times more passes than his opposite number. Magomu plays a running game in which he receives the ball at pace and with good depth. This enables him to break past defenses that are not set with a quick ball.
On first sight, a typical Ugandan would not think Isaac Adimo is a fly-half. His size would make a perfect loose forward or center. And that is where the biggest threat to defenses is – that when push comes to shove, he has the facilities needed to carry the ball and force his way through. On the day, Adimo played a more calm and stationary game where he received the ball short while standing. This, coupled with his strength, is why he managed to make big tackle-breaking carries.
Without the ball
Since the flyhalf is usually the target point for most teams attacking from the set piece, defenses have learnt how to protect their playmakers.
That said, Adimo’s role seemed to mainly have been making the standing choke tackles before his forwards brought the ball carrier to ground. Which explains why he posted a lower tackle completion rate than his opposite number. There wasn’t much to report for Magomu in defense. In the 78 minutes he was on pitch, he only needed to tackle just four times.
One on one, the two gave each other a run for their money early in the first half. Magomu’s only missed tackle was against a high flying Adimo in the 3rd minute. He returned the favour ten minutes later with an ambitious line break that nearly resulted in a try that would tie the scores.
Discipline is key in defense and the pair checked all the boxes in the eyes of the referee. Not a single penalty offense was committed in contact and at the breakdown.
The Kicking Game
Onto a more specific aspect of the game that is vital in a flyhalf’s performance: kicking in open play.
Adimo did not put a foot wrong when it came to the kicking game. His efforts off the boot were in the right spaces and landed in good territory.
Magomu, on the other hand, was unable to hit the mark when he chose to kick the ball. With under 10 minutes left to play and Uganda at a 9 points deficit, Magomu twice went for the ambitious cross-kick that did not find its intended recipient in James Odongo. These two kicks came at the end of high momentum attacking play from deep territory.
The second kick was actually his last action in the match. It was just two minutes until full time but a visibly frustrated John Duncan substituted him immediately after, bringing on Adrian Kasito.
The two wrong (would have been correct had they yielded positive outcomes) decisions to kick were a rather disappointing climax to a good performance from Magomu.
Adimo would go on to play the entire match. He switched to inside center after Mose was replaced by Kipng’etich Xavier and Mukidza moved to full back.
The tempo in the game was high from start to finish, and both Isaac Adimo and Ivan Magomu delivered a contest in the fly-half position, each showcasing their unique style of play remarkably.