Jones Kamiza Credit: Hamala Edgar

For Sailors to survive relegation at the end of the 2021 Guinness Sevens Series, they needed to have finished fifth or higher during the Coronation Sevens and hope that their closest opponent Rams collected not more than 2 points from the event; that is, fourteenth place and below.

But after day one’s action, they could only qualify for the Challenge Trophy while Rams progressed to the Main Cup knockouts, which sealed their fate before the curtains were even drawn on what has been a thrilling series.

How did Sailors earn core status?

Sailors qualified for core status two years ago on 18 August 2019 in a qualifier tournament hosted at their King’s Park home ground in Bweyogerere. Nine teams from around Kampala, up North in Gulu and as far East as Mbale took part in the event. Captained by Solomon Banawa, the Black Pirates development outfit went unbeaten on the day, beating a strong Walukuba Barbarians, 14-05, in the final after evading Boks in the quarterfinal and Rams II in the semifinal.

Sailors win 2019 National Sevens Series qualifier tournament at King’s Park

But they had to wait a year longer, due to the global pandemic and lockdown in 2020, for their first taste of top-tier national sevens rugby. The squad, which had the likes of Arnold Atukunda and Joshua Engwau – who were promoted to the senior Black Pirates squad alongside Banawa, Alex Ssebagala, Douglas Komakech, and Ernest Akorebirungi at the start of the 2019/20 season, and Matthew Ocoria who left for Buffaloes Rugby Club later that year – was ripped apart from the core. Only a handful – including fans favourite Moses Olupot, Moses Olweny, Desire Akol, Kamillo Jadalla, and others – stayed within the setup.

However, that’s the purpose of a development team, isn’t it? Coach Robert Musinguzi, who managed both Sailors and Black Pirates in this series, says, “originally, the purpose of Sailors is to be a feeder team for Black Pirates.”

He adds however that this purpose may need to be reviewed as both setups evolve with the changing times. Especially now that Sailors has had a full season test of top-level rugby.

Who were the standout players this year?

The youngest core team on the series, by both average age and experience, had a slow start to the season but steadily found their footing later to achieve sixth place during the Kigezi Sevens, their highest finish in the series.

“It has been a learning curve and valuable experience gained from playing at the top level… The highlight was finishing sixth in the Kigezi Sevens. For two weeks until the next circuit, they had the bragging rights as the “Sixth best 7s team” in the country. That was really massive,” Musinguzi says.

Moses Olweny Credit: Hamala Edgar

Over the six circuits, Jones Kamiza and Moses Olweny were the most outstanding players for Sailors. Kamiza was not only Sailors’ top try and points scorer but he also played a dependable role of sweeper with clean cross-covering tackles. Olweny, the squad’s captain, led commendably from the front, especially as the first option for power carrier in attack. Musinguzi says he admired the two young talents for their coachability and hard work.

The team to take Sailors’ place as a core side in the national sevens series will be determined from the national qualifier tournament. Eight teams from the four regions will take part in this event that will be played this Saturday at Kyadondo Rugby Club.

Sailors now shift their targets to the Central Region XV championship which is expected to kick off early next year alongside the national premier league.

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

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