Yesterday’s was the third time I watched Walukuba Barbarians this season. The first two were losses on successive weekends at the start of the season.

Kobs beat them 76-00 on matchday one at Legends; the only time they have conceded more than fifty points or failed to score. Then the following weekend, Impis managed to somehow hold on for a 18-11 victory. During the post-match interview that evening at Makerere, captain Bob Kawanda admitted that he had not been aware they were that close to winning. He then pledged that they would, among other things, focus on game management to get better results.

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Reports and videos from subsequent matches have shown that the Barbarians are now a more organised and competitive outfit, especially at home at the Abel Dhaira Memorial Stadium in the Walukuba industrial zone of Jinja City.

I was therefore interested in seeing how much progress they have made thus far. So I returned to Legends Rugby Grounds for their second round tie against Rhinos. Walukuba won the first round tie by 16-15 on matchday six.

Unlike Kobs who currently lead the standings, Rhinos sit one place from the bottom of the table. Coach Martial’s boys are struggling for form at the moment, and everything they do appears to sink them deeper into their problems.

Walukuba and Rhinos sized themselves up in the first half but the former kept making unforced errors with ball in hand. First half ended 03-03 although both teams had other scoring opportunities. The second half is when Walukuba came to life and squeezed a 18-09 victory as Rhinos continued making costly errors.

Lubambula had certainly done his homework. On defence, the midfield targeted and frustrated Davis Shimwa who is a ball magnet and the halfbacks kicked into spaces or to wingers who could not kick back. Also, the replacements brought on in the second half were timely for Walukuba. The first batch of three early after the break, then the second of two after the hour mark, and the final three to bring the victory home.

Gift Wokorach put up another Man Of The Match-winning performance with his ball distribution and kicking on the front foot. His penalty in the seventy-fifth minute dented Rhino’s hopes of a comeback win and substitute winger Solomon Mbuga’s try just two minutes later took away the consolation bonus point.

The other man to whom flowers could have gone is captain Ivan Bulima. He manned the backfield well and led Walukuba’s counterattack. The team also know when to strike with the quick tap-and-go, and his try showed just that. It was identical to the try he scored against Impis at Makerere.

However, Walukuba have not yet nailed down their lineouts. They have a promising talent in hooker Edward Emiemu so that should not be a challenge for long. The other area I felt is still shaky is efficiency at the breakdown, to maintain possession while keeping as many players on their feet for the next phase of play.

In my preview article at the start of the season, I opined that they would be in the relegation scrap (with the likes of Rams) but this match showed that I could have been wrong.

Walukuba Barbarians have picked up the gauntlet on surviving relegation in their second stint in the top flight. It’s high time everyone took them serious.

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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