On the continent, the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens, the Safari Sevens, the French-Uganda Friendship Week Sevens, and some national Sevens Series circuits at home. Overseas, the Oktober Fest Sevens, the Emirates Invitational Sevens, the Commonwealth Games, and even the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Name them. Uganda Men’s Sevens have earned their stripes playing Sevens rugby all over the world.

But two events have eluded them. The Olympic Games and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as a core side.

While the former is a special sporting event in its own right, the latter remains the ultimate prize for Uganda.

The current African champions have had a taste of what it feels like to be on the World Series – as an invitational side in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Cape Town multiple times. And that’s why they’re yearning for more.

Coming from continental triumph and an impressive outing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, this is the closest, and readiest too, Uganda has come to qualifying for core status.

The core squad of about nine players is on a conspicuous upward trajectory having trained and played together consistently since 2019.

Becoming a core team at the World Series would be a dream come true not only for these players who have worked for over half a decade but also the entire nation’s rugby fraternity. But they must navigate a tough Challenger Series this weekend.

Twelve men’s teams will compete for the one available ticket to the 2022-23 Series at the Estadio Santa Laura in Santiago, Chile.

Coach Tolbert Onyango, speaking to World Rugby, said getting to the World Series would change the tide for Ugandan rugby and open doors for the untapped talent in the country.

“[It would] show them that even if you pick up the sport locally you can go and play internationally and be recognized for your efforts,” he said.

Captain Michael Wokorach, who has close to a decade’s experience in the setup, re-echoed his coach’s opinion and added that the players are ready to give it their best shot.

“The mood in the camp is good and the players are ready. It is a tournament we have been looking forward to for a long time as we’ve been knocking on the door to get in to the Series. If we win this weekend it would be a game changer for Uganda rugby as it would open more doors for funding,” Wokorach said to World Rugby.

Who will Uganda face during the Challenger Series?

Uganda was drawn in Pool C alongside Germany, Uruguay, and Lithuania.

Germany and Uruguay were second and fifth respectively at the inaugural Challenger Series in 2020 where Uganda finished in seventh place.

The Europeans have faced and beaten Uganda four consecutive times since the two first met in 2017. The last meeting was a nail-biting 19-12 encounter at the 2020 Challenger Series in Viña del Mar, Chile. Uganda’s last meeting against the South Americans was a 38-28 victory at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in 2018.

Onyango cuts a humble but optimistic personality when asked about Uganda’s chances at this event.

“It’s going to be tough to get through that pool, but we’ll give it our level best and see how the results pan out for us,” he said.

“You can never be too sure about these things but we are geared up, we are ready to go and we will leave it all out on the pitch,” he added.

Uganda’s Squad

Uganda will be represented by the same squad on a round trip from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham a fortnight ago. The team arrived in Santiago, Chile early this week and have since held their first training session in South America.

Crown jewel Philip Wokorach, who was overall top points scorer in Birmingham, was named by World Rugby among the seven players to look out for during the Challenger Series.

However, the team will be without power forward, and crowd favourite, Desire Ayera who sustained a knee injury against Tonga in the 9th-place semifinal.

Three players, Alex Aturinda, Claude Otema, and Karim Arinaitwe, will make their debut appearances at the Challenger Series.

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

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