Africa Gold Cup in retrospect : The Most Improved Ugandan players in this year’s campaign

Africa Gold Cup in retrospect : The Most Improved Ugandan players in this year’s campaign

They came, they played and they nearly conquered, another Gold cup campaign done and dusted. We might choose to live in the excitement of the triumph against Tunisia and Morocco but honestly speaking; 2 wins out of 5 games is poor for a country with the kind of rugby ambition and potential that Uganda has.

That’s a story for another day however, let us look at the silver linings from this year’s Gold cup campaign – i bring to you, the most improved players as observed from previous years with their displays in this campaign.

 

Byron Oketayot
The man from Gulu town has been nothing but inspirational this year, rising from the lowly ranks of Gulu Elephants. His talent was spotted and adopted by the Shell Rimula Rhinos under the guidance of Godwin Kayangwe aka “Tonchu”.

Many over the years have wondered why him, why the investment and why the selection. He made his debut for the 7’s and 15’s outfits just over a year ago, with many jumping on the critique band wagon due to his almost negligible performances at club level.

The utility forward chose not to be swayed by his naysayers but rather work at upping his game and silencing the critics for good. This year has seen a change for the better – having a very colossal impact on the 7’s team in San Francisco as the chief enforcer and leading by example with his defence that won over many rugby fans.

Since then, he has transferred his newly found confidence and form to the 15’s set up, cementing his hold on the number 6 shirt in John Duncan’s team. A workaholic on the pitch, both in defence and attack – capping it off with a typical back rowers try in the game against Zimbabwe – with players of his nature, Uganda is beginning to find the right replacements for the likes of Mathias Ochwo.

Watch the highlights of the Zimbabwe game and view Byron’s try against Zimbabwe

Aaron Ofoirwoth
A graduate of the famed Kyadondo set up, rising from tag rugby to Stallions and then to the Heathens ranks. He joined the club at a time when Heathens was entering a very tough transitional time where he had to mature quicker than expected. Aaron was thrown in the thick of the fire as he had to learn on the job, often forming a partnership with veteran Chris “Opa” Lubanga and ultimately taking the veteran’s place as the starting fly half for one of Uganda’s most prestigious clubs and all the pressure that comes with it.

The lad’s efforts earned him a call up to the 7’s and 15’s teams last year. This caught the eye of Kenyan giants Harlequins who recruited him and ever since, his star has continued to shine – the early exposure to the top level of the game has groomed him into one of the most intelligent half backs in Africa this year.

From being among Uganda’s top performers at the San Francisco Rugby 7’s world cup to a core member of the Cranes’ set up – Ofoirwoth has earned all the plaudits coming his way. With maturity in game management, a very cunning kicking game and immense work in defence, he toppled Ivan Kirabo from having a chance at a cap this year and anyone that has watched him play wouldn’t dare to object.

 

Solomon Okia
Another story of a revamp in form and style is one of former Buffaloes RFC and now Harlequins winger Solomon “maaso” Okia. Okia was handed a debut last year when the Namibians came to visit but it was a case of jumping into the deep end too soon for the young man, who was totally exposed by the experience of his opposite number, he was later substituted and not had of since.

Harlequins came calling and he answered, something about Ugandan players going to Kenya that totally improves their game. Solomon Okia’s return to the national fold this year has been the typical definition of a turn of events. Coming off the bench to bag very crucial tries and putting pressure on the management for a regular starting place. His highlight this campaign was the nearly 60 metre dash to leave three defenders clutching at grass blades as he zoomed to the try area against Morocco. Kudos young man.

Watch Solomon Okia’s run which was among the best moments from the Gold cup against Morocco

 

Robert Aziku
Another Shell Rimula Rhinos export in the national set up is the lanky second row, in a time when Mathias Ochwo called it time up for the Cranes, the quest for jumpers on the team was a real challenge for coaches. Many were tested and many failed to fit the expectations or simply do the job consistently in the second row position.

Charles Uhuru had well established himself as the senior jumper on the team but who his partner would be was still an enigma to be sorted. The coaches chose to groom a mediocre Robert Aziku into the mound of player they wanted. His build and athleticism gave him the upper hand against the rest – he has come out of his shell this year, not just filling the numbers on the pitch but making his presence felt.

On top of the line out work, his aggressive show in ball carrying and defending has earned him a couple of fans and the backing of the coaches. He isn’t a typical “act of brilliance” type of player but he gets the job done with a satisfying amount of consistency. He earns a place among the most improved this year – well in Aziku.

 

Many players have shed blood and done their part for the team this year but the above have put in enough work to claim the most improved title.  However, here are some special mentions that we should look out for in the near future :-

Conrad Wanyama
The Pirates number 9 is the true definition of hard work pays as his tireless efforts have taken his game to the next level. He possesses a style similar to former Ugandan scrumhalf Davis Kyewalabye in terms of speed and build.

Adrian Kasiito
The humble but lethal Kobs utility back has yet to make the same impact on the 15s team as he has on the 7s side but his performances for the Betway Kobs along with glances of what he can do on national level are a subtle reassurance of what lies ahead.

Paul Ssekate
The Mongers player who also doubles as a practicing doctor has had a very challenging first campaign with the team. The absence of Alex Mubiru meant that he had to wear the number 2 shirt regardless. Nerves have gotten the best of him at times (something he will definitely improve on) but he has shown what he can do with ball in hand. He is a not the biggest of forwards but what he lacks in size, he compensates with cunning ability. His try assist for Ivan Magomu is just a highlight of how lethal he can be with ball in hand.

Simon Olet
He has the potential to become Uganda’s chief line out caller, very combative in the air, a body structure suited for the position, not forgetting a try to his name already this campaign. The Buffaloes forward has all the qualities needed to create a storm of competition at second row – a little bulking up would do him wonders but be sure to see his face around the national team set up a lot more.

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