My editor, Franklin Kaweru, has published an article here on Kawowo Sports listing his Team Of The Season in the just-concluded 2019/20 season of the Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier League. There are some pretty obvious names on his team list, and he makes a good case for those where there is some doubt.
While we were having a chat about his selection at the workplace, a thought crossed my mind: I should pick my own Team Of The Season, ensuring that no single player already appears on his. And see whose team would look stronger on paper.
Personally, this would be a test of how much focus I have put into my first year of covering rugby in Uganda. But also, just for the fun of it and to see how different our observations have been of the concluded season in which only 13 of 18 matchdays were played.
Allow me to present my fifteen-strong line-up here. For some positions, I have named individuals whose performance through the season earned them the right to be mentioned but for preference’s sake, are on the sideline.
Loosehead prop: Santos Senteza – Heathens
When I think of props in Ugandan rugby, Santos Senteza is the first name that comes to my mind. First of all, he has the primary requirement of a prop – weight. Secondly, he has been head and shoulders above the rest in scrummaging, which is all one would demand of a prop.
Black Pirates’ Alema Ruhweza fits this mould, and his knowledge on how to outwit opposition in the scrum has been top-notch.
Hooker: Faraji Odugo – Kobs
Admittedly, Uganda has not yet found the perfect replacement for veteran Alex Mubiru in the number 2 position. And that’s why he continues to play for club and country to this day. Odugo, among others like Bwambale Nathan, Sekate Paul and Kanyanya Ronald, have been given the chance to take over but the bar has been set so high for them to grasp.
However, Odugo has shown better progress in that direction especially this season where he has been Kobs’ first-choice hooker.
Tighthead prop: Blair Ayebazibwe – Kobs
Slowly by slowly, Ayebazibwe is sculpting himself as one of Uganda’s next-generation front row players. Despite being on the lower end of the weight scale, the man from Mbarara has exhibited good scrummaging even against more experienced forwards in the game. Ayebazibwe has also been an efficient player, choosing his battles smartly and yet not being a spectator in the thick of things.
Black Pirates’ Ivan Kabagambe has put his hand up to be picked for this role.
Lock: Emmanuel Ecodu – Kobs
Early in the season, Kobs looked like they were beginning to struggle with injuries among the forwards. However, their fortunes turned around with, among other reasons, Ecodu’s transformation from wing to lock. His towering presence in the works department has been so timely and pivotal in Kobs’ title ambitions. And while at it, he has not forgotten the art of scoring tries.
Lock: Frank Kidega – Black Pirates
No fancy stuff, no talking. Just strong work ethic. That’s Kidega for you. Kidega has been a suitable jumping option in the lineout for Black Pirates and an equally reliable option for the Sea Robbers to carry the ball forward and hard tacking. His power weapon has been that straight line run onto the ball off the flyhalf that always beat the gain line.
Notable pick for this position is Mongers’ Joachim Chisano whose characteristics are not far off from Kidega’s. But an injury midway through the season saw him miss out on the action.
Blindside flanker: Kennedy Muhumuza – Impis
This season has seen the rise of a pair of menacing loose forwards from Makerere, Pius Mpoza and Kennedy Muhumuza. The former’s indiscipline significantly diminishes his chances of entering the good books of any selector and this is where Muhumuza gets the edge over him.
Muhumuza has been an excellent tackler and ball carrier, often punching above his own weight against bulkier opposition. Additionally, his attitude on pitch is desirable because he has shown willingness and ability to empty the tank, and continue pushing even harder.
Open-side flanker: Brian Asaba – Kobs
Brian Asaba takes the role of leader and captain on my team of the season. His strengths as a player noted, Asaba showed consistency in guiding his team through a rather tough campaign. The ability to motivate his team with his presence in play while making the right decisions for the team on pitch is what I would love to have on my team. And Brian Asaba checks all the boxes.
Eighth-man: Romano Ucu – Buffaloes
Ucu is the kind of player whose work on the pitch does all the talking. A fast-paced loose forward good at carrying the ball from the back of the scrum and breaking tackles. Ucu earns this pick because he has been a standout performer for Buffaloes especially when they have been on the backfoot and needed some motivation.
Veteran Andrew Olweny is still firing from all cylinders at Mongers and this season, has gone against age and all odds to post strong performances for the lakeside-based outfit.
Scrumhalf: Paul Angana – Mongers
Angana earns this pick ahead of Conrad Wanyama and Nicholas Kato for one reason. In addition to doing his basic roles as a halfback with smart and quick decision making, he has been excellent at exploiting the defense on the breakdown. This style of play makes him a good addition for a team that intends to play the quick ball.
Flyhalf: Stephen Alul – Black Pirates
With Ivan Magomu’s absence, it goes without saying that Alul had big shoes to fill at Bweyogerere. But for a man that was more accustomed to playing in the other halfback position while at Buffaloes, he has adjusted impressively in the highly demanding role.
Alul’s composure and accuracy under pressure coupled with brilliant calls on set play are what has set him apart and above the rest.
Blindside wing: Denis Etwau – Jinja Hippos
The primary function of a winger is to finish off moves and score tries. And Denis Etwau has mastered the art of making it look so easy. This season alone, he has scored 5 tries, all which have been a manifestation of his pace and elusiveness around defenders especially from deep inside his territory.
An alternative pick for this position would be Buffaloes’ Alvin Lutwama whose balance in attack and defence has made him joint top scorer for the team behind Seguya.
Inside center: Justin Kimono – Kobs
For some of the “big” clubs, this season has been trial and error in this position of inside center – a tactic I’ve not been a supporter of. But if there is one that has been an interesting pick, it has certainly been Kobs’ Justin Kimono. His weight and pace fit the requirements of that position, and being a winger originally, his decision making both in attack and defence is up to the task. And this is why I’ve chosen to go with the legend.
Close by is Isaac Rujjumba at Black Pirates who was the team’s go-to man for the first ball off set pieces. But sometimes, most times, unlike Kimono, he has shown that he still needs a little time to fully adjust in the role. Especially in situations that required him to read the game and know when to or not to pass the ball.
Outside center: Wilfred Seguya – Buffaloes
Numbers do not lie. What they show is that Seguya has been Buffaloes’ best player this season. Not only has he been the team’s top scorer in both tries and points, but also has been at the center of the action looking for work. It is this willingness to lead his team on all fronts while not going off the script that has made Seguya a contender for player of the season.
Richard Kinyai, for providing a reliable kicking option for Warriors, makes for a convincing replacement.
Open-side wing: Maxwell Ebonga – Jinja Hippos
My second pick for the wing completes a Jinja Hippos pairing I believe is the strongest we’ve seen in the league this season. In being a scorer, with 5 tries to his name, Ebonga is not far behind his teammate Etwau. His ability to navigate through closed spaces and take contact is what makes him different.
Conrad Mukwaya would be a great addition but he has not enjoyed enough game time on pitch to post a more consistent performance like he did the previous season.
Fullback: Emmanuel Kinyera – Rams
Playing for a team whose realistic objective was to stay in the top flight, Kinyera has, by far, been this season’s biggest surprise act.
The pint-sized back has had a consistent performance for the now-homeless Mulago boys, scoring 5 of their 6 tries thus far. The best of which is one where a brace of tries helped Rams pull the rabbit out of the hat at Kings Park stadium early in January.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my fifteen-strong lineup. I feel that once pitted in an exhibition match against my editor’s team, we would at least edge them by a few points in the last moments of the match.
Let’s leave the judgement to you, my most esteemed reader.