Zambia upset Uganda, the latter with home advantage, to win the Barthes Cup 14-12 in a must-win finale last Sunday and in the 3 game tournament, the were definitely points to get us talking.
1. Zambia earns promotion
Uganda winning the Barthes Cup would be more than three talking points but the fact that Zambia withered a late arrival, and had to play against Uganda’s 16 men (fans were supposedly the 16th man) says a lot about the team. Zambia actually led the game from the get go until the 67th minute when Kinyai put Uganda ahead. Mwanza Mwimba converted two penalties, and a try from George Mwimba gave the Southern Africans a healthy 11 point lead at the break. Uganda came back with fight in the second half but again it was a Mwimba penalty from the half way line that earned them the win. And with that, they earned promotion to the second tier of the Barthes Cup.
2. Complacent Uganda
Probably, it did not do Uganda any good playing Ghana first. The 52-00 win against the West Africans was a confidence booster but also got them lethargic in the most important game. It was more than evident in the second game that Zambia were ready to play Uganda’s (back-line) game better than them while using the big boys to move mountains where need be. At this point, everyone looked clueless on what to do.
3. Kinyai-Mandela : What?
Already said that the game against Ghana wasn’t a real indicator. But if anything is to take from the game against Zambia, a center pairing of Richard Kinyai-Nelson Mike Mandela is an experiment to leave with the 2019 Barthes Cup and forget about. There was no sync between Uganda’s two midfielders. It is a very hectic process remembering Mandela’s contribution as inside center against both Ghana and Zambia. Save for the recovery second half where he kicked in four penalties and looked to have given Uganda the win after-all, many may not be as kind to Kinyai after he missed two glorious penalty chances in the first half on top of poor fielding.
4. Blame Game Ghana
For any shortcomings, there is bound to be someone to take the blame. For Ghana, it was the officials they were blaming. On top of acknowledging that Ghana were an inferior side in comparison to Uganda’s and Zambia’s rugby journey and experience, Ghana’s coach said the referees were their major undoing. Silly question – how is the referee going to save you from conceding 107 points in 160 minutes, and managing only 3? I do believe there should be limits to when we call out on the officials and start looking at our own abilities.
5. Vital premiership game-time
Going into the tourney, not much was known about the players in Uganda except those in the premiership, and boy did they turn up! Jeremiah Wasswa has been bullying Stephen Alul in and out of the scrumhalf position at Kyadondo’s Toyota Buffaloes and he showed at the international scene why he is playing regularly, locally. He is hungry for success, consistent in what he does, and good at it. Desire Ayera was probably the most famous on the team owing to his successful tenure with Coach Tolbert’s Sevens team and the 2017-2018 Uganda Cup and Premiership Champions, Pirates. When Uganda were looking down and out, he was the engine that put Uganda back on the frontfoot. Philip “Chiggas” Muhoozi of Warriors, Brian Kamanyire of Plascon Mongers are other notable mentions in the Ugandan set-up. Kato Nicholas of Heathens had a good game 1 but an injury cost him the second game.
6. Ticket pricing
Possibly unheard of before and actually needed defending with a lengthy write-up was the price of the tickets to watch the Barthes Cup. Every ticket was going for UGX 20,000. Many argued that for the Gold Cup (arguably more important tourney) tickets were going for half that i.e. UGX 10,000 while league game and schools knockouts were at UGX 5,000. There was no warranty on the UGX 20,000. A story for another…probably.
7. Elisha Bwalya Vs Mwanza Mwimba
On a personal note, I failed to pick a player of the tournament between Zambia’s back-rower Elisha Bwalya and center Mwimba. Mwimba was responsible for the trophy winning penalty on top of 6 other points that day. He also started Zambia’s response against Ghana when the latter went ahead 3-0 in the first Group C game of the Barthes Cup. Elisha on the other hand, was the cog in the back-row of Zambia. He had the most ball carries in the tournament and gained the second most meters in the tournament. Needless to say, he got himself a try too against Zambia. The stats are as compelling as actually watching them on pitch.
Pool C was a first for Rugby Africa and the participating federations. The three young teams had never competed, or at least for several years, and therefore, were starting from scratch. They gave us the opportunity to watch great play by enthusiastic players who entirely deserved their place in the competition.
This premiere was a success for both the Ugandan and Zambian teams. Uganda, an outstanding host of the competition, gave us three matches attended by great supporters who more than lived up to expectations. Ghana, however, struggled to find its place against these two teams.
This competition is also the first since Rugby Africa’s recent association with Société Générale, official partner of the development of rugby in Africa. This represents a real advance for the image of African rugby and particularly for rugby among young people.
These three days of matches will be remembered as a veritable festival of African rugby where countries from the south, east and west were represented and demonstrated a promising future for the game in the seasons to come.