Lydia Namabiro recieves the ball in a lineout Credit: Edgar Hamala

Twelve months ago, if you told me that Uganda would play, for both men and women, two tournaments of XVs and Sevens rugby separated by international test matches hosted at home, amidst all the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wouldn’t believe you. But, somehow, here we are now.

It certainly could have gone a lot better but we shall take, generally happily, what we got and call it a year.

So, let’s revisit the journey that has been 2021.

The Women’s Game

Women’s rugby in Uganda had, surprisingly, one of the busiest and most competitive years in a long time. 2021 started with separate tens competitions in the North, East, and Central regions in which new outfits including Acholi Quarters Rugby Academy and Ewes under the Rams franchise played their first tournaments. It concluded with sevens series in a similar format. For better-balanced competition between the fresh and experienced talents, the teams were split into two tiers.

The national conference tournament was not held for tens but a grand finale pitting the regions’ best against each other was held at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds. Overall, unsurprisingly, Central Region’s Black Pearls and Blue Whales reigned supreme over tier 1 and tier 2 respectively to be crowned champions.

Internationally, the Lady Rugby Cranes XV team bagged two wins, tallying 75-03 overall points, against Zimbabwe Women Sables in the Rugby Africa Cup 2021. The Sevens team were equally impressive when they made a return to the Safari Sevens. They registered a bronze medal finish behind the two Kenya Lionesses select squads at the event in October.

The Men’s Game

To kick off the year, a single-leg round-robin tournament, the first in over 350 days since the pandemic struck, was played from March until May. Kobs Rugby Club, who had not won the league since 2016, went unbeaten to be crowned champions having conceded only two tries in nine matches played. The Blue Army later completed a season double by winning the overall sevens trophy on points difference after a 3-circuit wins tie with Black Pirates in a thrilling 2021 Guinness Sevens Series.

The national Sevens squad embarked on an Olympic Games qualification campaign with two Emirates Invitational Sevens training camp tournaments in Dubai in April where they finished eighth and sixth. This was followed by the Rugby Africa Solidarity Camp hosted by South Africa in May to boost the team’s preparations for the Olympic Games Repechage in June in the Principality of Monaco.

Unfortunately, and painfully, despite making the flight to Monaco, the team was withdrawn from the Repechage after members returned positive COVID-19 test results.

The XV squad topped Pool C in the Rugby Africa Cup 2021 ahead of Algeria and Ghana in July at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds. This set up a quarterfinal fixture against Kenya who had finished second in Pool B in the 2022 event.

Newsworthy events

Robert “Soggy” Seguya, the Uganda Rugby Cranes and Jinja Hippos head coach, fell ill and was diagnosed with leukaemia at the end of the league in May. The entire rugby community joined hands in solidarity to support his treatment with a fundraiser match and a blood donation drive. Soggy, manifesting the fighting spirit he is known for, has since made a miraculous recovery and had his first public appearance at the Henry Rujumba Sevens circuit in November.

James Odongo became the latest Ugandan rugby player to disappear into thin air on an overseas tour when he left the national men’s sevens camp in Monaco in June ahead of the Olympic Games Repechage.

World Rugby announced a new qualification pathway to the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament. Teams will now qualify automatically through the previous event or through their respective regional tournaments. Uganda has a dream opportunity for a double appearance of both men’s and women’s national teams at the 2022 event in Cape Town, South Africa.

In a surprising turn of events, after countless continental and international sporting events were hosted by African countries in Africa, Rugby Africa announced that the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 will be hosted outside Africa in the country of France in July 2022. The event will serve as Africa’s qualification tournament for the Rugby World Cup 2023.

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

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