On October 10, 2015, at the Rugby World Cup in England, a young nine-year-old girl from Uganda delivered the match ball out onto the field at Twickenham Stadium, London ahead of a Pool A decider match between Australia and Wales.

The girl’s name is Lucky Melan Nirere.

Lucky Nirere as a baby with a rugby ball.

Nirere was born into the sport of rugby. Her mother, Fortunate Irankunda, is a Uganda Lady Rugby Cranes player (front row) with over 15 years of experience. She first held a rugby ball at the age of one in 2007 before she even learnt how to write her name.

Her love for the game would be ignited later at 4 years when she was put in a boarding school for primary because her mother was always on tour for rugby games with the Lady Rugby Cranes. Occasionally, she would get the chance to watch her mother play when there were home games in Kampala.

Seeing her mother in tackles and when the team lost hurt Nirere, but it inspired her to learn the sport so she could save her. And she hasn’t looked back ever since.

Lucky Nirere with mother Fortunate Irankunda

Nirere learnt as much as she could from her mother who was a volunteer tag rugby coach by that time, and she carried it all to school where she became a coach for her peers.

By the time she turned nine, Nirere was already a certified coach and referee educator. She has since worked with over 50 educators in more than 23 clubs and 9 districts around the country. She has also worked with teams and schools in Rwanda, South Sudan and England. Currently, she is a qualified Tag Rugby Trust Level 1 and 2.

Starting the Whales Rugby Academy

In 2012, together with her mother, Nirere founded the Whales Rugby Academy. Whales Rugby Academy is a community-based organisation in Entebbe that uses rugby to inspire and mentor young children.

The academy, partnering with various rugby development organisations, has involved over 500 boys and girls in the sport starting from tag to contact and taking part in age-grade competitions. The clubs under the academy are run by children like Nirere herself.

Most importantly, Whales Rugby Academy has enrolled deaf members to the team. These persons with disabilities train and play tag rugby with their peers at the academy.

This year, three of their female players in the academy featured in the Central Region Women’s championship with Avengers Rugby Club, and one was summoned for national team trials.

Certainly, the academy has been significantly affected by COVID-19. Its sources of funds have been constrained and doubt remains on how it will run all its programs after the pandemic has ended. Especially for the children who were being supported in their academic careers.

Being Match Ball Delivery Ambassador at the Rugby World Cup 2015

Lucky Nirere at the Rugby World Cup 2015

In 2014, an opportunity to travel around the country teaching rugby presented itself from DHL Africa. Nirere was just what the team needed to deliver knowledge about the game in the community.

So when the chance to be a match ball delivery ambassador at the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England came through a Facebook campaign by DHL Africa, Nirere was both lucky and fortunate to win.

She had never been on a plane before. Or even owned a passport.

Barely a month after submitting her nomination form and appearing on CNN as one of the best ten applicants for the Match Ball Delivery campaign, Nirere was a winner and would represent sub-Saharan Africa at the Rugby World Cup.

A few days to her ninth birthday, Nirere was on a flight with her mother to Heathrow Airport, London where a stunning welcome awaited her like she was going to play at the Rugby World Cup.

The most fascinating thing about this trip was at the airport when I reached because ‘all eyes were on me’ cameras welcomed me alongside my mum. And not forgetting the moment of delivering the match ball as Wales and Australia played in front of thousands of people in the stands.

Lucky Melan Nirere

That was the highlight of the two-weeks long dream trip that included tours around England, marketing campaigns, and running a Physical Education session in an English school.

Being a World Rugby ‘Unstoppable’

Lucky Nirere with the Unstoppables

Nirere is one of only 15 global ambassadors selected in World Rugby’s campaign to promote women in rugby. The campaign is known as “Try And Stop Us” and the ambassadors are called the “Unstoppables”.

Soon to turn fourteen this year, Nirere is the youngest among them and is one of only two from Africa. The only other Unstoppable from Africa is Senegal’s Anna Preira.

Last year, she launched a campaign of her own tagged “Let The Girl Play”. This campaign runs every year leading up to her birthday on October 30 where she aims to bring more girls into rugby by holding community outreach sessions in select regions around Uganda.

Nirere outside Rugby

Nirere can be described as an all-round sports personality. In addition to rugby, she has played netball, football, woodball, badminton, hockey, basketball and mostly through school events.

She is not only into sports, but also into performing arts. In addition to school and academics, Nirere is a dancer and actor too. She is also currently studying an arts and marketing course that has since given her first stage acting experience at the Uganda National Theatre.

Nirere Melan Lucky is a passionate and brilliant young lady who has dedicated her life to rugby. She continues to inspire other girls and women to join her in the growth and development of women in rugby.

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

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