Uganda: Rugby League Returns This Weekend

After the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) completed the government guidelines on Covid-19 last week, and tested over 400 players and staff, the 2021 league season begins this Saturday, March 6 at different grounds.

Dubbed 'Return to Play' considering that there has been no domestic rugby since March last year, so much of the new season will have a different feel about it in many ways. First and foremost, the league is only going to run for nine weeks, to allow the ten top flight men's teams to play each other.

However, unlike what has been the historical norm about the Nile Special sponsored rugby premier league, this season is going to have only one round. Teams will not have a luxury to face each other at least twice, which is usually on home and away arrangement.

Yayiro Kasasa, a former rugby Cranes coach, but now the 'Get into Rugby' manager told The Observer that the process of testing players for Covid-19 has been a costly one for the URU. For that matter, with all the restrictions and standard operating procedures from the ministry of Health, having two rounds of rugby would be so expensive for URU.

Considering that schools, lower divisions and women's rugby is yet to return, according to Kasasa, having one round of the men's top-flight league is to simply to allow URU re-invent the wheel, after a year of no activity.

Once normalcy returns, rugby will be played across the board. Yet, considering how few the games that will decide the season are set to be, one must dare not lose a game, because that could mark the end of the team. For instance, the league defending champions Hima Heathens face the Pirates, who are among the title favourites this weekend.

And whoever loses, may find it pretty hard to recover, because there will be little room for reprieve.

"Such high stakes are going to make the league very competitive," Godwin Kayangwe, the URU president said.

On the lower side of the league, there will be no worries about possible relegation. Nonetheless, without fans at the grounds, the atmosphere is expected to be dull yet rugby thrives a lot on the adrenaline, that fans cheering them brings. But that has not stopped teams from recruiting big. The fact that the mid-table side Jinja Hippos have signed rugby Cranes star Elfaz Emong from Kenyan side Home-Boys, is a statement of intent.

On the other hand, it is a sign of the danger they pose as dark horses, a one Pearson Makoma, a youth rugby coach noted. That said, Robert Seguya, the national team coach said that he expects a season, where players struggle to get to the top level of their game, because they have been inactive for long.

Seguya added: "The quality of play in terms of technical application may be compromised too, because a year without rugby takes a lot away from the players. Also, I am worried that there may be so many injuries since the players' bodies are encountering something new, after a long time redundant."

Nonetheless, the uniqueness of this season is highlighted by the fact that players have crossed between bitter rivals Hima Heathens and Betway Kobs. Michael Otto and Robert Masendi have left Heathens (Kyadondo) for Legends, where Kobs play.

Kobs have also acquired the steely Byron Oketayot while youthful winger Norbert Okeny has left Kobs for Heathens. As for Pirates, they expect their stars, Ivan Magomu and Conrad Wanyama, who were away last season due to studies and work commitments to make them unplayable, so that they get the bragging rights of 2021 like they did in 2017/2018.

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