This weekend, Uganda hosts the Kenyan Simbas in the first leg of the Elgon Cup at Legends Rugby Grounds, and as always, fans will throng the grounds in bevies.
The coaching team have assembled their troops putting into consideration players that have earned the right to walk from the dugout in national team colors, with respect to position. For the first time in a long time, I may not fault the lineup choices so much.
This year was specifically going to be tricky after October 2017. In October 2017, Uganda defended the Africa Rugby 7s crown on home turf and this earned them a one way ticket to San Francisco for the Sevens World Cup, alongside the world’s most elite Sevens sides. Around the same time, the Gold Cup would be in schedule which meant that our squad depth would be tested. Some players would miss out off either Gold Cup or San Francisco, while others could be lucky to play games at both events.
The Cranes squad will have to go a long way back if we were to look through teams that did not comprise of Heathens players, like the case is with this year. Skipper Michael Wokorach and Lawrence Ssebuliba probably miss out due to timing as their levels of fitness are a subject of debate. Veteran Hooker Alex Mubiru just wasn’t summoned and despite making it to training camp, Chris “Opa” Lubanga didn’t make the match day squad.
The Front Row:
Asuman Mugerwa (Kabras), Edgar Pajob(Pirates), Paul Ssekate (Mongers)
Asuman, until last season, was a Heathens player but that doesn’t count. He joined Emong, Ogena, Kirabo and Wokorach at Kabras. He is the last man standing from the long serving front row trio of Asuman, Mubiru and Brian Odong. The latter is out with injury and it’s unclear whether he will play the game again. He is evidently replaced by Pirates Edgar Pajob. A year ago, Pajob’s only worries were making sure Impis avoided relegation but in the space of 12 months, he changed guard to Pirates, won the Uganda Cup, and most recently, the Rugby premiership. He, alongside, Alema “Didi” Ruhweza were that immovable force at the helm of Pirates back row. His hard tackling and ball carrying skills stand out. The third back rower is Plascon Mongers’s Paul Ssekate. The last time Ssekate’s name was a strong echo around Legends Rugby Grounds was in his school boy days at SMACK but the stout lad is back in action and this time for the national side. The famous names in the Mongers front row were probably John Wandicho and Elijah Segawa but Sekatte’s determination and work ethic have seen him dominate for the Entebbe side and he has earned his call. Lest we forget, Ssekate and Pajob will be making their debuts internationally this weekend too.
They will be deputized off the bench by Rhinos’s bully Saul Kivumbi, Kobs’s Adnan Mutebi and Pirates hooker, Nathan Bwambale.
Robert Aziku (Rhinos), Simon Olet (Buffaloes)
Robert is one of the lesser knowns in the Rhinos star studded squad but that has not kept him under lock and key. He had good exploits internationally last season, has been a dominant regular for Rhinos this season and has been duly rewarded. With Robert’s more usual partner Charles Uhuru out due to injury, Buffaloes jumper, Simon Olet has earned his debut. Buffaloes had never beaten Heathens in their entire history, let alone twice in one season. Owing to devastatingly well executed line out sequences, Buffaloes dominated Heathens and all their magic stemmed from the line out, which had Simon as the jumper winning 98% of line-outs against Heathens. Aside from his presence in the line out, Olet is hard tackler who practically fears no one on the rugby pitch, that on top of being an amazing ball carrier.
Off the bench, we will see Byron Oketayot who was most recently axed from the Sevens squad.
Brian Asaba(Kobs), Eliphaz Emong(Kabras), Marvin Odong (Pirates)
The usual suspects Brian Asaba and Marvin Odong return alongside Kabras’ Eliphaz Emong who will be making his international debut. Kobs had a beautiful run in the season in the first seven games until Heathens happened but even after, when things didn’t seem to go their way, Brian Asaba was an outstanding performer. His experience and leadership will come in handy. Marvin Odong has had gaps as regards play time owing to irreconcilable work schedules, but dedication and work ethic have seen him make the squad this year as well. After a spectacular season with Kabras in Kenya that saw the Sugar makers reach the final only to bettered by KCB, Eliphaz has been awarded with a national team call up. Eliphaz is a commanding presence at the back with a good work ethic and impeccable tackling. 12 months ago, it was about Scott Oluoch and Ronald Musajja but issues of form and commitment have cost the two bulls their places.
Pirates stalwart, Musa Muwonge, will be the back rower to come off the bench.
Ivan Kirabo (Kabras), Ivan Magomu (Pirates)
Kabras have gifted the Cranes with another player, and this time in scrum half Ivan Kirabo. Kirabo arrested the position at Kabras playing week in week out. Kirabo is a quick lad who thinks on his feet, and well adaptive to situations. Two years ago, rugby faithful were wary of the fact that we would lose Ivan Magomu’s talent to his hot temper but 18 months on and he is the starting fly half that the country wants. Magomu captained Pirates to their maiden premiership crown in the absence of Marvin Odong, providing the most assists in the league while at it. It goes without saying that his best game in national colors has been against this weekend’s opponents.
Justin Kimono (Kobs), James Odong (Nondescript)
In a season where Kobs hoped to dominate again and capture the title from Heathens, before and after the setbacks, Justin was one of the forever performers of the Legends side. He often found himself playing in center and this did not stop him from carrying his team forward with most meters gained and mos carries made. As a winger, his CV is spotless clean. He is lethal. James Odong had a stint on the med bed but since returning for Nondies, he has been a regular and adding scoring tries onto his portfolio. He has been with the sevens squad to Hong kong and Gold Coast and adds impressive defense to his venomous attack.
Pius Ogena (Kabras), Eric Mula (Rhinos)
Kabras, the gift which keeps giving, avail us with Pius Ogena. Since his transition from the back row to the midfield, Ogena has not won over so many hearts but the coaching team does trust him and his stats emulate why. He is your typical inside center. On top of making useful tackles, he spares time out of his schedule to bust a number for himself. He may not be the best ball passer but he does create for his mates. Eric Mula has again been rewarded with national team duty as was the case last year, and with the absence of Michael Wokorach, he gets to start for the Cranes this weekend. He is quite the pacy customer and a tackle buster.
Adrian Kasiito (Kobs)
There is no doubt Adrian is a thorn in the flesh whether as full back, winger or scrum half. He does all roles so well. For a pint sized lad, he is quite comfortable on feet and should probably be the fastest runner on the team, of course behind fellow Kobs back liner Justin Kimono. His kick conversion rate statistics are amazing coupled with the fact that he can sidestep, a trait Ugandan fancy in the number 15. Lest I forget, it was Kasiito’s quick feet that pushed him to score the try that won Uganda the Africa Rugby Sevens title in Kampala last year.
The backline will be, off the bench, assisted by Kobs’s long center Ian Munyani, Quins utility back Aaron Ofoiwroth and enemy number one, Phillip Wokorach. Kenyans love Wokorach just as much Ugandans but their love flies out of the window when he is playing against them. They know how deadly he is and they don’t fancy going against him. Lucky for them, he doesn’t get to start so the torment won’t be for a full 80 minutes.
Pirates had the most entertaining back-line put together in the league but going by the picks here, it is evident the Coaching staff has gone for experience and firmness and the rivalry/game against Kenya comes with a lot of intensity.
Rugby Cranes Vs Kenya:
1.Asuman Mugerwa(C) 2.Paul Sekatte 3.Edgar Pajob 4.Robert Aziku 5.Simon Olet 6.Brian Asaba 7.Emong Eliphaz 8.Marvin Odong 9.Ivan Kirabo 10.Ivan Magomu 11.Justin Kimono(VC) 12.Pius Ogena 13.Eric Mula 14.James Odong 15.Adrian Kasito
16.Nathan Bwabale 17.Adnan Mutebi 18.Saul Kivumbi 19.Byron Oketayot 20.Musa Muwonge 21.Ian Munyani 22.Phillip Wokorach 23.Aaron Ofoirwoth
Coach: John Duncan
Asst Coach: Robert Sseguya
Team Manager: Robert Omuna
Team Doctor: Steven Buyungo