Kevin Makmot placed the ball on his kicking tee about 45m away facing the restaurant and bar lounge at Legends Rugby Ground.
It was a clear blue sky on the Saturday afternoon of March 17, 2018. The score was still 0-0 in the second half against Black Pirates who needed just one more win to be declared champions of the 2017-18 season.
At that moment, Makmot held the keys that the Sea Robbers needed to unlock the door to their first-ever league title. As calm as ever, he struck the ball perfectly to split the uprights and sent the yellow camp into wild celebrations.
“They have played well this term and probably deserve it but we don’t want to be that side that gives it away with more games to play, and we can only do that by beating them,” Makmot told journalists before the match.
That penalty kick would go on to be the deciding factor of the game as Rhinos held on for a 03-00 victory and bragging rights for being the only team that, on the pitch, had beaten eventual champions that season.
Black Pirates weren’t the only big tree in the forest that was knocked down by the charging Rhinos that season.
The week before that, Rhinos had convincingly beaten Kobs, 13-03, and earlier in the first round, they had outsmarted struggling defending champions Heathens, 20-13, in their own backyard.
How Rhinos was founded
Rhinos is one of the oldest rugby clubs in Uganda. It was founded around 1993 by a group of rugby players; Paul Musoke, Roger Sebina, Paul Nyangabyaki, Paul Olok, and Andrew Byekwaso. Because most of these gentlemen were former Impis players, the history is strongly attached to the Makerere club but the information is not clear on how and when exactly this breakaway happened.
Rhinos is registered under the Rhino Athletics Club franchise, which is a sports club that comprises basketball, hockey and rugby clubs. It is managed by Alex Kalimugogo in the capacity of chairperson.
The club has been a competitive outfit in Ugandan rugby from the time they were founded. In 1998, 2006, and 2018, they were runners-up in the national league. What makes the 2018 season more unique, however, is how low the club sank almost immediately after that.
Rhinos were relegated from core status in the national sevens series in 2019 and in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, they narrowly survived relegation from the top tier fifteens premier league after it was declared that there would be no relegation or promotion.
But how did Rhinos move from challenging for the title to fighting for survival in less than two years?
Managerial Changes and Player Transfers
The rise of Rhinos Rugby Club to a strong competitive outfit in 2018 can be traced back to the appointment of Herbert Wafula in September 2015. John Musoke, citing a busy work schedule, had stepped aside and Wafula was brought in from Warriors Rugby Club. He won his first game as head coach, 44-00, against Jinja Hippos in the Uganda Cup and would go on to, for the next 10 months, steer the club to impressive progress.
Midway through the following year 2016, two important things that sparked off a sharp rise in the strength of Rhinos happened.
First, in May, taking over from Ezee Money, Vivo Energy through their brand Shell Rimula unveiled a UGX 74.4 million sponsorship package for Rhinos for a period of 18 months. This package included the cash, a brand new home and away playing kit, and some non-cash items. This sponsorship was exclusive of transfer fees, player wages and allowances, Legends rugby facility fees, and running the general club activities. The club and its growing fan base felt that was the beginning of a very bright future.
Secondly, Wafula was dropped as coach by the club’s executive committee and considered for an alternative role in the new structure. Having developed a five-year strategic plan for sustainable success on and off the pitch, the club was in a restructuring phase.