Sometime last week, I spoke of the Rugby Cranes not taking for granted the challenge that was Tunisia, for sure the boys went into this game knowing what they wanted and how to get it. Yes, it might not have lived to the billing of a glossy three digit score like that our neighbours exhibited, which I’m sure everyone would have loved to see but who cares really, we got the bonus point and packed a mean punch with a Herculean 78 points to our name. Very good score if you ask me.
There is no greater satisfaction in sports management than the experiments of a coach turning into master strokes. Saturday was testament to this and a win – win as well, much needed rest for the likes of Scott Oluoch and Kirabo Ivan but the performance of the replacements showed they weren’t missed one bit.
This “mukolo” (read – occasion) was colossal in every sense of the word and not even the attempted downpour could halt the masses from showing face, not as many as the sight from Elgon cup but numerous enough to create the feeling of an impregnable fortress. It was also a commemoration for the efforts of long serving men of the sport : Alex Mubiru Musava and Mathias Matayo Ochwo who were to play their 50th and 51st caps respectively. The two warriors came onto the pitch first to a standing ovation and thunderous hand shakes from the rugby faithful settling in at the Legends Rugby grounds. The national team then followed afterwards to an even bigger roar, appetites were whet with hunger for a big kill and Tunisia were the unfortunate prey.
From the get go, the Cranes intended to express themselves, confident of the style they wanted to play, one that Ugandan fans have fallen in love with – EXPANSIVE RUGBY. The boys had the foot on the gas from the beginning and it was clear as day that this would be a long game for the traveling group, a score seeming well overdue by the 2nd minute.
Presenting a minute by minute report of the Cranes exploits would be doing a grave injustice to the occurrences of the day as mere words cannot begin to justify their feat. I would strongly advise those that missed the game to stop whatever they are doing and check out the highlights on the Akatimba social media page or relieve the glory by watching the full game on YouTube courtesy of Kwese.
Nonetheless, our focus will be on a summarized look at the contribution of our heroes.
The front row as usual was a spectacle, the experience of the front three is undoubtedly looking to be one of Uganda’s greatest assets, giving Aaron Ofoirwoth a good platform to start the structure going. These big boys even had some time to show a side of theirs not normally caught on camera or sought by eyes, Big man Brian Odongo defying the laws of size to be mobile enough to carry ball whenever need be, Asuman Mugerwa showing good support lines and assisting winger James Odong with an All black-esque offload, not forgetting half centurion Alex Musava Mubiru dashing from the opposition 22 meter line to cap off this memorable day with a try of his own.
The lock forwards were immense in every aspect of the game, the gel of Matayo’s knowhow and wit with the youth and industry of Charles Uhuru terrorised not only their opposite numbers but also the backs with a number of mismatches.
As fairy tales normally go, 51 cap Ochwo also marked the day with a long run to score under the posts. As for Charles Uhuru, words can’t begin to describe the type of rugby he has put on display this campaign, scoring in every gold cup game so far. The young man that plies his trade for the Toyota Buffaloes bossed the line out, carried well, supported not only his fellow forwards but the backs as well. It was a thing of beauty to witness the lanky second row always being the first man giving options at every line break on top of which he bagged a try too and is among Uganda’s top try scorers this campaign.
The back row came out with a new look but their impact didn’t falter, blindside Byron Oketayot was immense – he literally tackled everything in his path and got up to tackle some more for his teammates, the Rhinos man was surely having a defensive purple patch.
At open side, Brian Asaba continued to show why he has retained the #7 shirt despite many potential candidates, the Namilyango graduate showed just how a number seven should play, cunning enough to slow down Tunisian break downs forcing the turnovers, smart enough to read the game and intercept faulty opposition line outs but still had enough in his tank to show how brutal he can be in ball carrying and tackling.
Ronald Musajja at eighth man, had a fair game, doing the basics but not really giving the coaches much to ponder about on selection, he didn’t stamp himself on this one. Ronald looked quite lost at eight and maybe blindside suits him better.
The tragic injury that ruled out winger Justin Kimono last Wednesday saw a reshuffle to a more normally accustomed to back line, Phillip Wokorach’s start at #10 will have to wait a little longer as he returned to full back. Ivan Magomu came back to the starting 15 from the bench.
There is always talk of experience and how players aren’t ready yet for the big stage but Aaron Ofoirwoth’s first start at scrum half was near perfect, His distribution was quick and accurate, putting the forwards in gaps and recycling fast enough to play the back line, a strategy that wore out the bigger Tunisians. It could have been a case of playing in a near one sided encounter but either way he earns our respect for the weekend and Soggy can rest assured that he has depth in the number 9 position.
Ivan Magomu has been sharp and decisive in the Gold cup thus far but Saturday so him go up a whole new level, his cross kicks were precise and contestable putting the Tunisian back three under heaps of pressure, his coordination with Aaron was sublime in distributing and organizing the motions and effecting expansive champagne rugby, his decision making on when to pass and break the line was the stuff of the Legendary Dan Carter VS the British and Irish Lions in 2005, running rugby at its best, oh and he scored too – hats off to him. Although we are still wondering whether it was the new dreadlocks that inspired this kind of fly half extravaganza.
The Centres were very solid in defence, nothing got through them big or small. Ogena marshalled the defensive duties expertly and Michael used his athletic size to suck in as many defenders as he could, only to offload to oncoming support to score with ease. The centres each bagged a try to cap off a dominant display and it will be very hard to usurp this duo that seems to have cemented these positions.
The back three put on a show of “romantic rugby”. Running hard in the gaps, dancing through parades of opposition defenders and controlling territory with dexterity. James Odong deserves a lot of credit for his work, the man looked for opportunities everywhere, coming to give options for the back in, playing as second receiver and being available at the wing for the kick and pass as well. it is no surprise that he was at the end of a magnificent highlight coming from a beautiful offload pass by Asuman Mugerwa that he walked to the try area.
Philip “golden boy” Wokorach has been criticized for slacking in defence but had another master class in attack. It seemed like he was smeared with grease as the opposition could barely hold on when he sliced through their defensive line on numerous occasions. He took the man of the match accolade with a sensational hat trick of tries as well as two assists, the Stat meter for offloads and line breaks broke due to the multiple times he executed at will.
Powerful winger Lawrence Ssebuliba had a good game, it is a shame that he didn’t get a try under his name but he did play his part. He probably will have to pick a leaf from fellow winger James on how to look for the work else where but the wing.
I would like to applaud Coaches Duncan and Sseguya on a job well done getting the boys to embrace a kind of rugby that encourages the selflessness of offloads and support play no matter the cost : every Ugandan that broke the line had at least two supporting players. 👍 Thumbs up for the show.
Namibia looms around the corner and everything rides on this one to give us a more tangible feel of conquering Africa with the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification as a cherry on the top for our troubles. Surely, the Namibians wont be as toothless as our recently claimed scalp scalp and we shall need every ounce of energy and organizational skill to do ourselves the biggest of favors – keep destiny in our hands.