The 2022 rugby season will be remembered as Uganda’s best for the sport’s ever-growing new fans, and one of the best, for their more seasoned counterparts.
For nearly the entire twelve months, it was a season to be jolly, both locally and internationally, as the gems brightly outshone the flaws.
The Uganda Men’s Sevens began their campaign in high gear and flew the country’s flag high and above. They won the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens at home and qualified for the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens where their impressive performance continued. But the Sevens Series dream agonisingly slipped through their hands at the Challenger Series in Chile.
At the end of the year, Tolbert Onyango’s boys experienced some turbulence during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town where they had been invited. Uganda did not register a single win at both tournaments.
The women did not do as much globe-trotting as the men. But they registered somewhat surprising success when they finished fourth at the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens in Tunisia, their only appearance this year.
There was not much to write home about their XVs comrades though. Compared to how other countries had prepared for the Rugby Africa Men’s Cup, the Rugby Cranes attempted to reap in France what they had not sowed anywhere.
Similarly, the U20 boys were thrown in the deep end for the Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy. Having barely been assembled a month earlier, they somehow managed to finish sixth and maintain their spot in the tournament for another year.
Despite being better prepared and favourites to win the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup, the Lady Rugby Cranes were outsmarted by less-experienced Kenya Lionesses in their own backyard. With that, an opportunity to compete for a ticket to the Rugby World Cup the next year went begging.
On the local scene, Jinja Hippos usurped the national sevens series crown from Kobs who had won five of the last six titles. But the Black Pearls continued their dominance in the women’s game with yet another triumph.
Walukuba Barbarians, who collected some major scalps during the sevens series, were relegated from the sevens series. Their position was earned by Rhinos who have watered their own patch of grass and returned to grace whence they had fallen five years ago.
In the XVs format, the men’s and women’s leagues were competitive and entertaining in equal measure.
Heathens reminded sceptics of their championship-winning credentials by clinching two of the three available men’s titles. To win the Uganda Cup for the first time since 2015, they needed the luck of a coin toss to pass Kobs in the semifinal and had to beat Black Pirates in the final in Entebbe. Both cracking matches could only be concluded after extra time.
Avengers snatched the second edition of the Uganda Women’s Cup from the women’s equivalent of Heathens, Thunderbirds. The two teams had steamrolled their way through the tournament – each scoring more than 100 points in matches leading to the final. But against each other, it was a nailbiting 18-16 result in Entebbe.
Also this year, in the biggest rugby event off the pitch, rugby players, officials and administrators switched shorts and boots with suits and ties for the rugby awards night resurrecting from an eight-year coma. Adrian Kasito and Peace Lekuru took home the gongs for 2022’s best rugby player.
If 2023 serves even just a fraction of the happiness its predecessor dished for the rugby fraternity in Uganda, it will have done well.
But that will not be enough as the bar, higher than has been in years past, has been set.