Uganda lineup during the Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy 2023 Credit: Source: Kenya Rugby Union

On the surface, Uganda performed worse in 2023 than it had done in 2022 during the Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy. They finished seventh out of eight teams, one place below last year’s ranking.

Despite travelling with better-prepared and more skilled individuals, Uganda barely played as a team, with the character and style the country is known to exhibit. It was a lukewarm campaign where they did just enough to guarantee survival for next year’s edition.

However, a closer look at the numbers and watching replays of the matches shows that Uganda actually performed better this year than they did in 2022. They scored more tries and conceded fewer in a field where almost every participating nation entered with an improved team.

Tries ScoredTries ConcededTotal Points ScoredTotal Points Conceded
A comparison of Uganda’s performance in the Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy between 2023 and 2022.

There were several moments when the team made the wrong decisions in the wrong places and picked the wrong battles at the wrong time. These would ultimately cost them precious points and opportunities to take control of matches.

But when everything clicked, there were flashes of what the team had to offer. Case in point, the match-winning try scored by winger Rodney Mugume in the 7/8th place playoff final against Madagascar.

Uganda found their groove in Nairobi when it was too late. They played the last ten minutes against Madagascar how everybody expected them to play from the first minute against Kenya.

Coach Emmanuel Katuntu believed that better preparation would have gone a long way in pushing Uganda up the rankings.

“It all boils down to preparation. We need to get together as a technical unit and work with the powers that be to ensure that we start these preparations early such that the boys are exposed much more coming into a tournament like this,” Katuntu said to Kawowo Sports after the tense match against Madagascar.

The 28-man squad, comprising players from the schools league, the reserve championships, and the premier league, trained together for just over a month. They played three competitive trial matches against a Warriors and Rhinos select, St Mary’s College Kisubi SMACK’s school team, and the Uganda Veterans. Although this was more than was done in 2022, it was barely enough for the level that the competition has dramatically jumped to in such a short time.

“Most of them (the players) came here (for the tournament in Nairobi) without much exposure. So we want to ensure that the preparations next time round are much better such that we are also able to compete and go toe-to-toe with the top four sides that we have faced in this particular tournament,” Katuntu added.

Uganda knows they will compete in next year’s edition. A few lessons can be picked from more successful nations, like champions Zimbabwe, runners-up Kenya and Tunisia, ahead of the tournament coming in twelve months.

They include; as a low-hanging fruit, starting preparations as early as possible. By identifying eligible players and executing a plan for them to stay engaged as a team until the final travelling squad is named. Resources permitting, the U20 national team prospects can participate in an ongoing league, undertake World Rugby education courses, and harmonise their travel documents.

Long gone are the days when Uganda battled relegation in rugby competitions on the African continent. They need to act like the big boys they are.

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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