Kampala — A day after the Rugby Cranes 7s set foot in the desert for the opening round of the 2016/17 HSBC World Sevens Series, an invitational Ugandan ladies' team joined them yesterday.
The latter, the Gazelles, left Entebbe for Dubai, UAE with their invitational tournament set to start tomorrow at the iconic Sevens Stadium. The men's tournament kicks off on Friday.
It will be a new territory for all 24 players combined, 12 men and 12 women, except Helen Buteme, the Gazelles' coach. She returns to the scene of the 2009 Sevens Rugby World Cup.
Seven years ago, Buteme was part of the Lady Cranes 7s team that qualified for the World Cup for the very first time. "Of course, everyone gets nostalgic," Buteme, captain then, said.
"However, this week is all about this team," she added. Besides the obvious pride, the Gazelles only held a few training sessions further emphasize the dire state of women's rugby financially.
On an empty wallet, Buteme, often bitter with the Uganda Rugby Union (URU), has taken the bulk of this team to Machakos and the Prinsloo 7s, both in Kenya, plus the Rugby Afirique tournament in Zimbabwe this year.
The Gazelles have been drawn in pool A together with France Development, Tabusoro Angels (from Scandinavia), Samurai (England) and Tuks (South Africa).
On the other hand, the Rugby Cranes, flagged off by the National Council of Sports (NCS) on Monday, received Shs500,000 each for winning the Africa Cup back in September.
In total, NCS general secretary Nicholas Muramagi handed over Shs7.5m to the team whose coach Tolbert Onyango has been conducting pre-dawn training sessions from 5.30am for eight weeks.
Uganda face South Africa, USA and Scotland with team skipper Eric Kasiita hoping to surprise their more illustrious contemporaries just like they did in winning the Africa Cup in Kenya.
"We don't have any pressure on our shoulders because people don't know us," said Kasiita. "No one expected us to win in Nairobi but we did well and that gives us confidence going into these series."
After this week, the national team will head to Cape Town, South Africa for the second leg of the 10-round World Series.
DUBAI: DECEMBER 1-2 GAZELLES
Aisha Nakityo Nabulime, Charity Eva Atimango, Emmanuela Oroma, Flavia Agenorwot, Gilder Azikuru, Irene Nzige, Juliet Nandawula, Justine Yolanda Namagembe, Peace Mirembe, Rita Nadunga, Samiya Ayikoru