At the start of the year, not many believed that we would have the 7s Rugby Cranes rubbing shoulders with the elite in the competition on the global scene.
There’s a bit of Cinderella-esque ending to the 2016 voyage of 7s rugby, aside of the 15s success, ever since the appointment of former Kenya international, Tolbert Onyango.
Uganda 7s squad at Africa Cup: Philip Wokorach, Kasiita Eric (C), Ramadhan Govule, Pius Ogena, Kasito Adrian, Okia Solomon, Lawrence Ssebuliba, Anguzu Robert, James Odong, Manano Al haj, Etwau Denis, Kevin Keremundu.
Having shown intent by dropping strong names from the 2015 editions with the likes of Michael Wokorach, James Ijongat, Ivan Magomu & Emmanuel Ecodu making way, Coach Tolbert was ready to take on whomever and stamp his authority on the team and consequently, anyone else who showed up in his team’s way.
Uganda sailed past Zimbabwe and Mauritius in the Africa Cup group stage rounds held in Nairobi only to make a date with the 2015 Champions and hosts, Kenya. In the Semis, the cranes kept their cool to see off experienced Kenya 17-12 and set up a rendezvous with Namibia in the finals whom they battered 38-19 to claim the tournament. This victory was just the start of possibly a great reign of Coach Tolbert as he saw his troops get invited to participate in the first two editions of the 2016-2017 HSBC World Rugby 7s calendar in Dubai and Cape Town.
Squad: Michael Wokorach returned, Byron Oketayot was called in, Anguzu & Etwau were dropped; Philip Wokorach, Kasiita Eric (C), Ramadhan Govule, Pius Ogena, Kasito Adrian, Okia Solomon, Lawrence Ssebuliba, Byron Oketayot, James Odong, Manano Al haj, Michael Wokorach, Kevin Keremundu.
“The sky is blue
The grass is green
Phillip Wokorach will bedazzle you.”
The big stage always has a disturbing effect on new comers but Uganda needed only the first game in Dubai to make peace. 7s dons, Boks gave the Cranes the baptism of fire, blitzing past the latter in a 46-00 win. The performances went so fast from catchpenny to radiant. In the second game, goosestep, chip & chase master, Philip Wokorach did just that when he chipped the ball over USA defenders to score Uganda’s and his maiden try at the HSBC international 7s stage. Game by game, there were major signs of improvement until finally, WE WON A GAME. We beat Japan with Philip Wokorach in the headlines again, with an undaunted goosestep, sending a Japanese defender home early to catch the next episode of Matahachiro. We went into the tournament as the last seed but climbed up two places at the end.
An elated Tolbert had this to say, “Our single most important experience from Dunai was the speech from Olympic Champ, Osea Kolinisau. It will live with us forever. A true champion!”
Fast forward to Cape Town, the fairy tale continued. It was almost unbelievable when Govule scored the first try against Wales, a beautiful interception. As fate would have it, the Welsh reorganized and made a mess of Uganda’s formation. Script in the group stages was the same as that from Dubai but there were many moments of brilliance from the likes of Govule, Kasiita, Keremundu, Wokorach and Ssebuliba. We were handed Australia on day two of the Cape Town 7s and this is when Lawrence Ssebuliba stamped his mark on the tournament after a beautiful switch-inside ball play with Keremundu, put his foot on the gas, jackrabbit towards the try line, leaving the Aussies for dead. The whole crowd got to their feet and cheered on in awe. But again, WE BEAT JAPAN. Ladies and Gentlemen, we got a wife from the HSBC experience. Her name is Japan. Phillip Wokorach & Lawrence Ssebuliba paid the bride price. Lest I forget, we still rank 14th, having come in as the 16th seed.
There is still hope for more Uganda 7s action on the international scene as the Cranes will participate in Hong Kong 7s as a qualifier for the rest of the 7s action in the 2016-2017 calendar.
It is hardly a year for Coach Tolbert Onyango at the helm and de facto, the progress is immense and the Cranes have drawn admiration and very encouraging comments from strong 7s names like Ben Ryan.
“ The team that I am falling in love with is Uganda Sevens. They are amazing. Uganda are the exciting team of the series thus far, so much potential.”
(Govule seats Wales' Jarred Rosser)
The future certainly does look bright. Onwards and upwards.
Lest I forget, Lawrence Sebuliba's execution made it to the Supersport HSBC ad. If that isn't winning, I will never know what is.