Read Part I of this series about the style of play of Uganda Rugby Cranes’ midfield combination and which players make the greatest combination of all time.

As we inch ever closer to the 2021 Rugby Africa Cup that will serve as a pre-qualifier for the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup which will be the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifier for the African continent, discussions on how the Uganda Rugby Cranes will line up have started.

The technical bench led by head coach Brian Makalama and his assistant Robert Musinguzi have named a 28-man squad that will begin the country’s two-year job for a shot at the sport’s greatest event come October 2023 in France.

One of the positions which have dominated these discussion is the midfield.

PART II: How does Uganda Rugby Cranes’ immediate future look like in the midfield?

To start with, it would be nice to take a look at which strategy top test nations have been utilising in the recent past for their midfield. And also, test nations with similar setups and resources like the Rugby Cranes.

  • Two out-and-out centers: Uganda Rugby Cranes can stick with their age-old style of midfield combinations by pairing two out-and-out centers. The first of which is a strong ball carrier to attack in the flyhalf channel and the second, a quick runner with good ball handling skills.
    This is a simple straightforward style that does not involve a great deal of tinkering with set play moves. However, Uganda does not possess many of such players that meet the physical and technical requirements for this, especially the number 12 position.

Most test teams use this style of play for example current world champions Springboks, the All Blacks and perennial rivals Kenya Simbas.

  • Converting a winger into a center: In order to solve the problem of not having out-and-out centers, Uganda Rugby Cranes can deploy a converted winger to the midfield. This adds a new dimension to the style of play, especially since some of the wingers are heavier than the centers and are equally skilled with ball in hand. A bulky winger at inside center duplicates the traditional battering ram style of play while an explosive one at outside center adds pace to it.
    However, the team will need to be more cohesive on defense as the wingers are not accustomed to defending between the lanes and can find themselves in no man’s land against a crafty opposition.

Some examples of wingers who have evolved into centers include Justin Kimono who has played two seasons at inside center for his club Kobs, and Rieko Ioane at outside center for the All Blacks.

  • One flyhalf as a center: At the moment, Uganda has a increased supply of worthy flyhalves for the Rugby Cranes compared to the past. These include Ivan Magomu, Joseph Aredo, Aaron Ofoywroth and Robert Masendi. One of the ways to ensure that these skilled players can be on pitch at the same time is by deploying two of them – one at flyhalf and the other at center. This gives the team more options for playmakers which keeps the opposition guessing on where the next attacking platform will be.
    However, there would be a huge compromise on defense given that the flyhalves are typically not strong/good tacklers. This would increase the workload of the loose forwards who are tasked with covering the gap. And given that Uganda’s options are on the lower end of the weight scale, this would be a significant concern for the Rugby Cranes.

The best example of this strategy is England under coach Eddie Jones who have played with both flyhalves George Ford and Owen Farrell. Locally, Black Pirates have tried to play with two flyhalves in Magomu and youngster William Nkore in similar fashion.

Wondering which of the above is going to be the preferred strategy for the Uganda Rugby Cranes? Me too.

So… Who will make Uganda Rugby Cranes’ next midfield combination?

A quick analysis of the squad list reveals that Makalama and Musinguzi may be opting for Pius Ogena and Justin Kimono as their centers. The team also has Isaac Rujjumba (listed among the forwards) and Alhajj Manano who have had stints at center for their clubs. Aaron Ofoywroth and Ivan Magomu are the flyhalves while the options for wings are Solomon Okia, Maxwell Ebonga, Claude Otema and Denis Etwau.

If this analysis is correct, it can be concluded that the Uganda Rugby Cranes will play the 2021 Rugby Africa Cup without a single out-and-out center. Ogena is a part-time loose-forward part-time center who inspired his club to an unbeaten league title while playing at eighthman. There is fear that Ogena may become a jack of all trades and master of none which will prevent him from reaching full potential at either of the positions.

However, the technical bench has closely followed these gentlemen and has worked with them in training, so I believe they know them best and how they plan to use them to steer the country to the Rugby World Cup.

That said, we have to wait just a few more days to see which strategy they opt for when the Rugby Africa Cup kicks off.

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

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