Credit: Don Mugabi

In twenty-one days, the 2022 Commonwealth Games will commence in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Uganda will be represented by many disciplines, including rugby sevens which will be played from July 29-31 at the Coventry Stadium in Coventry.

Uganda Men’s Sevens head coach Tolbert Onyango named his travelling squad, not only for this event but also for the crucial World Rugby Challenger Series in Chile. The winner of the Challenger Series will qualify for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as a core side for the 2022-23 season.

  • Uganda Men’s Sevens travelling squad (debutant*): Michael Wokorach (captain), Ian Munyani (vice-captain), Alex Aturinda*, Desire Ayera, Claude Ivan Otema, Isaac Newton Massanganzira, Aaron Ofoywroth, Adrian Kasito, Nobert Okeny, Timothy Kisiga, William Nkore, Philip Wokorach, Karim Arinaitwe, Levis Ocen.

Onyango has maintained his entire squad that won the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens 2022 at Kyadondo Rugby Club apart from one player, Kelvin Balagadde.

Unfortunately, Balagadde misses out due to an injury that has stuck like a Bidens pilosa weed. Timothy Mugisha also suffered the same fate that ruled him out of selection but the door, Onyango says, remains open for them to get back into the squad.

In total, twenty players were in training with the national team. Of the twenty, four were not being considered for selection. These are Patrick Okello, Aaron Tukei, Arnold Atukunda, and Davis Shimwa.

“They are not being considered now but we are training with them to ensure that there is, first of all, continuity and when we start giving a rest to other guys, there isn’t a break in the system,” Onyango revealed in an exclusive interview with Kawowo Sports.

Alex Aturinda during Uganda Rugby Sevens training Credit: Hamala Edgar

Alex Aturinda earns his stripes

For two agonising years, Alex Aturinda has had to return home while his colleagues travelled the world to represent the country. First summoned for training at the start of the 2020 season, Aturinda did not make the cut for the Challenger Series, Olympic Games repechage, Safari Sevens, and the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens.

But not anymore! The Black Pirates’ loose-forward has finally earned the favour of Onyango’s eye for national duty.

“Alex Aturinda has put in enough work to merit a spot in the side, and we believe that he is going to give us good value,” Onyango said.

Aturinda provides options in the scrum as a prop and lineout as a lifter. Also, his power with the ball in hand will be useful going forward on attack.

His club teammate, William Nkore, returns to the squad after a year on the sidelines during which he was studying his bar course. The utility back’s last appearance was during the Challenger Series 2020 in South America.

“He is a good addition. He will fill in the spaces between scrumhalf, flyhalf and center, and we are excited to have him in the squad for those purposes,” Onyango said.

The final addition to the squad is long-term national sevens player Levis Ocen who is the tour’s standby player. Ocen will join the team for the Challenger Series in Chile from August 13-14, 2022.

“Because we have Commonwealth Games and the Challenger Series, we need to have a player just to ensure that in case anything goes wrong, we have someone on standby to be able to fill those gaps,” Onyango said.

Looking ahead and setting targets

At the Commonwealth Games, Uganda will be playing their first competitive event since clinching the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens at home in April. Onyango says he will use the event as a launchpad for a crucial calendar run to the end of the year which will include the aforementioned Challenger Series, Safari Sevens, and at least other events Uganda expects to be invited to.

“Ever since the Africa Cup was held in April, we have not had a test for ourselves. We will be using the Commonwealth Games as a good test for ourselves, but also to improve on our previous standing with regard to performance at the Commonwealth Games,” he said.

The pools for the Commonwealth Games have not yet been drawn but Onyango expects world-class challengers in Birmingham.

“We don’t know who we are going to face in the Commonwealth Games, but we know the best four sides in the world are going to be there; South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, plus Team Great Britain, and our neighbours Kenya,” Onyango said.

He hopes to post better results than the last outing at the Gold Coast, Australia in 2018 by progressing from the pool stage into the main cup quarterfinals.

“We didn’t do so well in the past one at Gold Coast in 2018, but we are looking to at least get out of the pool this time. We want to at least win two games out of the pool and get ourselves into the quarters. That would be successful,” he concluded.

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

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