Uganda looking past the World Cup in San Francisco.

By the punter
Jul 17, 2018

Uganda have a tough opening match against Samoa when the Rugby World Cup Sevens kicks off at the AT&T Stadium on Friday.

They must win to advance to the next round in a new format where eight of the 16 in the pre-16 competition will be knocked out.

Tolbert Onyango, a former Kenya scrum-half who has seen Uganda navigate their way to the last 24 is looking beyond the 2018 RWC Sevens in San Francisco.

In an exclusive interview with Sports News Arena on Monday before hitting the ground for their first training session, Onyango admitted the job at hand was not easy.

"The stark naked truth facing all the teams in the pre-qualifier is that they could only play one match," he stated. Samoa which is being coached by Sir. Gordon Tietjens are a physical side while Uganda mostly rely on their speed outside and have picked up a few tips from playing in two rounds of the World Rugby Sevens World Series.

"Playing in the Series opened our team to an awareness about the organizational set up within the core teams," admits Onyango.

Uganda has a mix of youth and experience in the squad with the bulk of the players aged 19, 20, 21 and 22.

According to the coach, this is a progressive developmental squad which has been picked from a pool of 25 players. Their style of play and game management is key to moving to the next stage.

Adapt to lessons

"We have been able to adapt to the lessons learned from the core teams by picking and implementing what is beneficial. There has been great improvement," states the coach. It is this organization capacity among the top tier teams that Uganda would like to attain and play at the top level.

"We are not asking much, just the ability of the players to adopt a style of play which produces positive results. A lot of the teams have gone through the same stage in which we are now," he adds.

One big hurdle which the players have to overcome is the stage fright. They are not used to playing in front of very big crowds. "The atmosphere is intimidating although the players are beginning to adapt since we have started being cheered at most of the venues and this gives the players confidence," observes Onyango.

By competing at two legs in the Series, Uganda have had a good rapport with Fiji. They always share the same locker room and train together.

In one gesture of their close ties, a Fiji player gave his boots to a Ugandan player whose boots had been damaged while playing. "These little acts of kindness have been etched in the memories of the players," according to Onyango.

Already, the players have overcome a mental barrier of the caliber of players in the other teams by staying in the same hotel and sometimes sharing the same facilities.

Technically, more needs to be done not only for the welfare of the players in monetary terms to concentrate on the job at hand. He gives an example of the Kenya team where several players are able to make quick on-the-pitch decisions.

"Kenya could have more than three captains on the pitch in terms of leadership. This is something we are still working on and trying out several players in different positions," Onyango explains.

Experienced players

Michael Okorach and James Odong are the most experienced players in the team at the moment.

Before joining his players to the training venue, Onyango feels the tournament format could have been different giving some of the second and third tier teams more match time.

"Traveling all the way from Uganda to play only one match may not be good enough for our development," he stated. The journey by Uganda to the World Cup has bee great despite the many challenges along the way.

"But, that’s what makes it sweet," comments Onyango. in 2015, Uganda were sixth in the Africa Cup which also doubled up as the Olympic qualifiers. In the following year, Uganda emerged champions after beating Namibia in Nairobi.

They followed this up with a win against Zimbabwe in the final in Kampala to qualify for the World Cup. The women’s team made history by becoming the first Ugandan team to compete in the 2009 World Cup held in Dubai.

The journey of a thousand miles has clocked many steps and San Francisco is the latest stop for this ambitious team.