For the past three years and counting, every 365 days that have come have promised an increasingly busier calendar for Ugandan rugby. From this, one can deduce that the sport is on an upward trajectory of growth and expansion.
2023 is going to be no different. For both men and women internationally, and across the board domestically for schools and institutions, and regions.
Kawowo Sports visited Uganda Rugby Union (URU) earlier this week at their office in Lugogo, Kampala to get a clearer picture of what has been planned for the year. Our reporter Ernest Akorebirungi spoke to URU Chief Technical Officer, Ramsey Olinga.
The Rugby Africa tournaments calendar released a fortnight ago finds URU already off the blocks in their scheduled activities.
The Uganda Cup – won by Heathens and Avengers in Entebbe – was concluded last year, and the leagues – men’s, women’s and reserve – are currently ongoing. The men’s second division regional leagues, which are a pathway to the premier league, kick off this weekend.
The U20 boys will be the first national team in action when they travel to Nairobi, Kenya for the Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy in mid-April.
“It is a good chance for us to retain top-class status in Barthes and also to have them progress from number five. The U20s will start training in early February so that they can have a chance, unlike last year,” said Ramsey Olinga.
Despite training for only three weeks, Richard Lumu’s boys finished fifth out of eight in last year’s edition. Uganda was a late addition to the tournament after Senegal pulled out at the last minute due to financial challenges.
“The only challenge (this time) is that they are playing their last game around May 1 and our schools are closing (the) first term on May 6. So clearly, in that period, they will be doing their exams and we cannot take kids out of school to go and play rugby when they have to study first. We shall miss a few school players but if we can use some from the reserve league and regional leagues, I think we can make a good side,” Olinga added.
Having missed out on qualification for Rugby World Cup France 2023, the Rugby Cranes have more time on their hands than their juniors. However, URU is planning some tests for them.
“The men’s XVs has no Rugby Africa (Cup) games this year. So what we are looking at is trying to revive Victoria Cup which will include Elgon Cup. Already, talks have begun within the four unions – Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. We hope that they can play so that they can begin their four-year cycle towards the next World Cup,” Olinga revealed.
On the other hand, their Lady Rugby Cranes counterparts have the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup awaiting in October. They will compete in Pool B alongside Zimbabwe, Tunisia, and Cote d’Ivoire at a yet-to-be-confirmed host venue.
The Africa Women’s Cup will most likely coincide with the Women’s Sevens’ Olympics qualifier tournament on October 14-15 in Tunisia. This takes URU back to a familiar place they were not long ago when they had to split the Men’s Sevens from the Rugby Cranes.
“Eventually, we have to. We have to get to a point where we have two different sides. That (squad) depth needs to be built. Luckily for us, we had the chance last year when we were playing the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup, we watched the U20 girls play XVs rugby which is a nice platform for them to start getting into the main teams.
“The (women’s) league has just begun as well so we should be able to pick players who can take part in the Rugby Africa XVs because it is around the same time as when the Women’s Sevens are going for Olympic Qualifiers which is a chance we may never get to go to the Olympics. So we shall put some of the efforts there to make sure that the Sevens team goes to the Olympics,” Olinga hinted at how URU will tackle the challenge.
Similarly, URU’s unicorn, the Men’s Sevens, will also enjoy this preferential treatment as URU sets its targets on maiden Olympic appearances. They will shoot for the World Series during two rounds of the Challenger Series in Stellenbosch, South Africa at the end of April and then the Olympic Qualifiers in Zimbabwe on September 16-17.
URU has picked the low-hanging fruits in schools’ and institutions’ rugby by collaborating with the Uganda Secondary School Sports Association (USSSA) and the Association of Uganda University Sports (AUUS) to organise interschool and interuniversity rugby events.
“There is already a vehicle that runs all schools games, that is USSSA. So rather than run parallel activities, it only makes sense to fit into their program. They already have the structures and know the schools better than us. We shall offer support technically, match officials, maybe medical, but in terms of administering the games, they are better placed to do that,” he said.
And finally, on the impending election, Olinga provided assurance that it would happen. President Godwin Kayangwe and his executive have been at the helm since 2019 and have come close to the end of their four-year term.
“The Annual General Meeting and elections are going to happen as planned. We have never failed to have an AGM, whether COVID or anything, we have always had AGMs. This is the fourth year so it (the election) will definitely be before the end of April. That’s what the constitution says,” he revealed.
Will 2023 be another year of ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows in equal measure? We shall revisit this in twelve months.