David Wako Credit: Uganda Rugby Union/TW

They may have started outside the expected contenders but by all metrics, Jinja Hippos’ first major national championship – the 2022 Sevens Series – was no fluke. They were the most consistent side in the series and outmuscled their challengers when it mattered most.

That Sevens triumph resulted in two things for Jinja Hippos; four of their senior players earned Uganda Men’s Sevens tours to Dubai and Cape Town Sevens on the world series and it added a spring to their step when walking amongst rugby folk.

Head coach, Saidi Atibu and captain on the day, Eliphaz Emong said that the sevens championship boosted their confidence and that they will use it to chase more silverware.

“It has boosted our confidence, especially with the young kids,” Emong said.

“The Sevens trophy gave us a lot of energy and we want to keep that energy going,” added Atibu.

The two were speaking to Kawowo Sports on Saturday afternoon at Kyadondo Rugby Club before embarking on a fresh Uganda Cup campaign.

While Jinja Hippos lived the dream six weeks ago, Saidi Atibu’s lads no longer wear the underdog tag. They approach the 2022-23 season as potent challengers, and the rest of the field is treating them as such.

Jinja Hippos beat Stallions, 34-03, in the opening Round of 16 of the 2022 Uganda Cup. They scored five tries through Bruno Kisule (2), David Wako, Cyrus Kintu, and John Echeru but only three were converted by Yasin Wasswa and John Echeru (2). Wasswa also slotted a penalty in the match.

Walter Otim scored Stallions’ consolation points off the tee in the seventy-fourth minute.

There were scattered displays of the potency expected of the ‘just-graduated’ Hippos. Like the set plays in which the midfield ran angled lines attacking the ball. Or the counterattack where the back three quickly shuffled the ball from one edge to the other before the forwards aligned in their 1-3-3-1 shape. Hippos were patient enough to strike after a second or third phase but still hungry enough to keep attacking the gainline.

Atibu was full of praise for flyhalf John Echeru who, coming off the bench in the twenty-ninth minute, did not just score nine points but was also the conductor of Hippos’ backline moves that got the crowd on their feet.

“Echeru is a natural flyhalf. So any time you give him the ball he will want to do all sorts of things with it and that’s why we need him on the team,” Atibu said.

But Jinja Hippos lacked that killer instinct one would expect of a title challenger. The largely youthful and inexperienced squad has not yet gelled fully and multiple scoring opportunities against Stallions, a non-premiership side, went begging.

“Sure, we expected a bit more from the players and unfortunately we did not. But still, we managed to pick a win which is what we mainly wanted. (For) the challenges we’ve got, we’re going to go back to Jinja, work on them, and come back stronger,” Atibu said after full-time.

The Uganda Cup is played in a winner-takes-all knockout format over four rounds played on four consecutive weekends.

Full Results:

Men’s Round of 16:

  • Rams 17-12 Warriors
  • Walukuba Barbarians 03-20 Rhinos
  • Mbarara Titans 13-72 Kobs
  • Boks 00-62 Heathens
  • Kyambogo 03-71 Stanbic Black Pirates
  • Mbale Elephants 00-45 Plascon Mongers
  • Stallions 03-34 Jinja Hippos
  • Impis 06-17 Toyota Buffaloes

Women’s Quarterfinals:

  • Kabale Berg Princesses 00-115 Thunderbirds
  • Avengers 20-00 Mbale Eagles
  • Lira Strikers 20-00 Ewes
  • Lira Matrix – Gulu Sprinters (Not Played)

Ernest Akorebirungi is Uganda's top rugby writer and commentator with experience in local tournaments like the national XVs competitions and sevens series. He has also reported at international tournaments...

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