Apart from the shock 25-22 victory against Hippos in Jinja on the season’s opening matchday, I have watched every minute of every match Impis have played in the 2023 Nile Special Rugby Premier League. Six, with my own eyes at the respective venues and two, on footage recorded by the different broadcasters.

The first four of those nine matches – against Walukuba, Mongers, Rams, and Rhinos in that order – were breathtaking, because, in equal proportions, of the threat of losing and the ecstasy of winning. Impis rode a high wave, undefeated up in second place, and their loyal fans were the envy of the town.

But the realisation that Impis were yet to face Heathens, Black Pirates and Kobs put their hearts at the moment between where excitement stops and terror begins. Impis were likened to the elephant atop a tree branch, and everybody awaited the day they would come tumbling down the standings.

And true to form, Impis lost four successive games, including one against Buffaloes, to finish the first round in sixth place behind Hippos and Buffaloes.

During the two contrasting phases, victory in the first four matches and defeat in the last four, I made a couple of observations that I scribbled down in my notebook. Allow me to share them with you ahead of the second round.

Syrus Sebuliba
  1. Impis operate and look more mature than they have been

In the 2010s, Impis were Uganda rugby’s problem child. From unnecessary unending wars of words with URU and other teams to always crying for attention. But from last season and through to this, they have focused their energy and resources on matters within their control to build a more sustainable ecosystem.

There is a close-knit leadership group, led at the forefront by captain Kennedy Muhumuza, coaches Syrus Sebuliba and Emmanuel Katuntu and others in the background including at the Makerere University Games & Sports Union, which is steering the club in the right direction. And the results are showing. In how the team conduct themselves and their business, and how they are performing on the pitch.

  1. Only a handful of individuals carrying the entire team

From just looking at the score sheets, only a handful of the players were doing the donkey work for Impis. Ten tries so far have been scored by just six players. Pius Mpoza leads the charts with three tries and Henry Nsekuye has kicked all but three of the team’s eighty-seven points off the boot.

Similarly, when you watch Impis play, you easily notice the key players. Mpoza’s work rate is matched by a select few in the league. Together with Emmanuel Ssedyabane, they are a turnover threat at the breakdown and their quick restarts have caught many opponents napping. Muhumuza has bolstered Impis’ defence in the midfield, Godfrey Ayebare is always the second man to arrive at the contact zone for the contest, and the big boys are carrying the ball well.

Henry Nsekuye lifted by Kennedy Muhumuza as Emmanuel Katuntu walks by
  1. Squad depth still lacks much-needed quality

But that Impis’ quality drops when any of the aforementioned individuals are not on the pitch is not a hard conclusion to make. It was most evident when coach Sebuliba made eleven changes to his starting XV against Kobs on Wednesday. This was the first time since mid-last year that Impis were playing without any of Ssedyabane, Mpoza, Muhumuza, and Nsekuye.

While it would have been a similar result with them, fielding a fresh squad enabled Impis to test their squad depth and the quality of their fringe players.

  1. Set pieces need retouching, soft skills not exciting

I was not able to pinpoint where exactly but during Impis’ lineouts, there was a clear disconnect between the hooker and jumpers, and perhaps the lifters too. Either the throw was poor or the jumper was not able to catch the ball cleanly or he jumped (or was lifted) late and missed the ball or a combination of all those scenarios. Even the 2-ball (at the front of the lineout) which is any team’s last resort when all options have failed did not work consistently.

Similarly, the scrummage was not Impis’ forte. Despite having heavy tight forwards, Impis did not dominate in that setpiece. Where they did well, perhaps, was with the loose forwards as the first point of defence and attack.

With the ball in hand, Impis did the basic stuff. Catch, pass and/or carry, and secure possession at the breakdown. Nothing fancy. There was also an occasional knock-forward here and illegal arrival at the breakdown there. The soft skills on show were generally not exciting, to be honest.

  1. Impis have one of the cleanest disciplinary records this season

At three yellow cards and one red card this season, Impis are one of the most disciplined teams in the league. Only matched by Mongers (4 yellow, 0 red) and bettered by Rams (3 yellow, 0 red). Compared to last season where they were booked eleven times, Impis have improved their disciplinary record by a significant percentage. The penalty count has also reduced, especially when defending their try line.

My dedicated coverage of Impis this season has ended. Personally, I have enjoyed celebrating the wins and I have felt the pain of losing. I look forward to catching one or two other matches in the second round and hearing more success stories from the great club.

Ernest Akorebirungi joined Kawowo Sports in July 2019 after one year as a student volunteer at the Makerere University Games Union. In his role as rugby correspondent, he offers unique insight and analysis...

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