THIS SEASON, Black Pirates overawed Kobs to the 2023 title on the final day, Rams were relegated for the first time since getting promoted in 2014, and Pius Ogena equalled the league’s try-scoring record.

But in and amongst the many letters written by URU and the online fans exchanging banter, some rugby was played by some people. And so, to celebrate the best of the best, allow me to share my Nile Special Rugby Premier League 2023 Team of the Season.

My picks are from personal observation (sixteen matchdays spent pitchside or in the commentary booth, and two watched online or on television) and are supported by some statistics. Most importantly, I have only considered players who took part in at least two-thirds (twelve separate matches) of the season.

Here goes nothing!

Alema “Didi” Ruhweza Credit: John Batanudde

The Front Row

  • 1 Ivan Kabagambe (Stanbic Black Pirates)
  • 2 Nathan Bwambale (Stanbic Black Pirates)
  • 3 Alema Ruhweza (Stanbic Black Pirates)

Black Pirates owe their championship, in part, to the front row’s huge shift throughout the season. Ruhweza was in such tip-top shape that playing eighty minutes became normal business while with six tries to his name, Kabagambe’s ball-carrying was like a wrecking ball. Bwambale was the main proponent of Pirates’ set pieces (read lineouts).

Frank Kidega Credit: John Batanudde

The Second Row

  • 4 Michael Otto (Kobs Rugby Club)
  • 5 Frank Kidega (Stanbic Black Pirates) – Captain

Otto and Kidega exhibited one mutual attribute this season – doing the donkey work in silence. Which is what a lock should be ruthlessly good at. I have chosen Kidega as my captain because he took charge in moments when Pirates was on the back foot and his personality stood out in a star-studded Sea Robbers pack.

Pius Ogena | Credit: John Batanudde

The Back Row

  • 6 Ivan Odoch Morgan (Toyota Buffaloes)
  • 7 Moses Zziwa (Stanbic Black Pirates)
  • 8 Pius Ogena (Kobs Rugby Club)

These were the most-contested positions in my mind for this team. Andrew Odhiambo, Sydney Gongodyo, and the lanky Humphreys (Tashobya and Olaunah) played good rugby this season but Odoch, Zziwa and Ogena were simply exceptional.

Ogena, supported by his record-equalling twenty-two tries, makes a strong case for Most Valuable Player of the Season.

Ivan Magomu

The Half-backs

  • 9 Conrad Wanyama (Stanbic Black Pirates)
  • 10 Ivan Magomu (Stanbic Black Pirates)

Unlike the back row, this was the simplest of picks to make. Wanyama and Magomu were not just the best 9-10 combination this season but individually, they were also just what Pirates needed to unlock some stubborn defences by directing the play.

Tawfik Bagalana (with ball) Credit: Yacovos/Jinja Hippos Rugby Club/TW

The Midfield

  • 12 Gerald Ssewankambo (Toyota Buffaloes)
  • 13 Tawfik Bagalana (Jinja Hippos)

Ssewankambo rewound the clock back to the days when he was a force to reckon with at inside-center for club and country. A straight-line ball carrier and a heavy tackler.

On the other hand, Bagalana, who played all eighteen matches for Hippos this season, showed why his name is high up on the list of Uganda’s future centers. His composure, calculated aggressiveness, smart decision-making, and deceptive pace made playing outside-center look easy.

Ivan Bulima goes in for a jackal turnover against Impis

The Back Three

  • 11 Lawrence Ssebuliba (Platinum Credit Heathens)
  • 14 Karim Arinaitwe (Kobs Rugby Club)
  • 15 Ivan Bulima (Walukuba Barbarians)

Despite this season’s top try scorers list being dominated by back-row forwards – Ogena (22), Scott Olwoch (12), and Gongodyo (10) among others – Lawrence Ssebuliba (12) and Karim Arinaitwe (10) have restored some pride in wingers. As the designated finishers, Ssebuliba and Arinaitwe took a metre every time they were given an inch of space out wide.

Bulima played his first season in the top flight as though he had been there before. He knew the right time to pull the strings both as a playmaker and an option on attack. Walukuba took the top flight by storm, and their top-try-scoring captain Bulima was one of the key reasons why.

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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