Uganda rugby cranes always super motivated to play Kenya

Kenya won one game  and lost one game and in the process finished 3rd in the Africa Cup 1A championships. Kenya finished 3rd by virtue of beating hosts Tunisia in the second match. Tries came via Vincent Mose, Isaac Adimo, Tony Onyango, Oscar Ouma and Wilson K’Opondo. Conversions via Vincent Mose and Dennis Muhanji.

In the tourney opener, Kenya lost 19-20 to a very determined and highly motivated Uganda side. According to national team coach Michael “Tank” Otieno, Uganda outmuscled Kenya in breakdown situations. As such Kenyan backs were unable to get any decent ball. One of the “Ugandans” who outmuscled Kenya was Scott Oluoch, a Kenyan who used to play for Mwamba. He scored one of the decisive tries. It was a scenario reminiscent of 2001. On that occasion, the Uganda sevens team beat their Kenyan counterparts for the first time thanks in large part to another Kenyan Herbert Wafula.

Once again it was likely a case where Uganda simply wanted it much more than Kenya and were highly motivated. The Uganda Cranes and Ugandans in general have a major chip on their shoulder when it comes to playing against Kenya in any sport. Matches between Uganda and Kenya are taken very seriiously by Ugandans and are heavily hyped in the Ugandan media. This makes Ugandans highly motivated to play their Kenyan counterparts. One the other hand, a match between Kenya and Uganda hardly gets a mention in any of the Kenyan media outside of rugby reporting. In Kenya it is the sevens team that gets publicity whereas the 15s team is like a poor relative.

A victory for Uganda against Kenya in any sport is usually met with major celebrations. It accords Ugandan sports fans bragging rights. And boy do they brag about beating Kenya.

Why does Uganda have such a serious chip on their shoulder when it comes to Kenya ? Some of it stems from the fact that Kenya’s economy historically  towered over Uganda for several decades creating some resentment. Also there is the fact that Kenyan sports teams historically have the upper hand over Uganda. This is still true for sports like hockey, basketball and volleyball and it used to be true for rugby.

Ugandan rugby had gone into hibernation during the Iddi Amin / Milton Obote days. When they started playing again, Kenya seemed light years ahead of Uganda. In 1997, Kenya beat Uganda 67-5 in the first rugby match played between the two teams in almost 20 years. At the time no Kenyan fan would have imagined that within 5 years, Uganda would be at par with Kenya. Yayiro Kasasa who is the current Uganda coach was one of the Uganda players on that day. He probably uses that 67-5 loss to motivate the Uganda players to good effect.

When it comes to issues regarding Kenya, Ugandans are afflicted with the big brother syndrome. As such everything Uganda accomplishes is measured in terms of how they compare with Kenya.

Why did Uganda catch up with Kenya so quickly ? Firstly, sports in Uganda is generally better run than it is in Kenya. They are able to accomplish more with less. Preparation for tournaments such as the Elgon cup for example are taken more seriously in Uganda unlike in Kenya where the team assembles a few days before the game , trains a few times then jumps on the bus to Kampala. A classic case of poor leadership happened in 2003. Kenya was due to play Uganda. The Kenya players threatened not to take the field because the allowances they were promised were not fully paid. A KRFU official stormed into the dressing room and told the players that not only would they not receive the allowances as promised but that they would all face suspensions if they did not play. Eventually the players relented. They took the field demoralized, put on a lackadaisical display and by half time they were 3 tries down much to the chagrin of fans. In the second half they pulled up their socks and outscored Uganda but could not close the gap.

The second reason Uganda closed the gap is that Kenya rugby did not advance much in 30 years that Uganda rugby was in hibernation nor in the intervening years. So when Kenya beat Uganda 67-5 in 1997, it seemed that Kenya was light years ahead.

Kenya has not made significant technical advances since the 1970s when the Europeans started to leave and indigenous Kenyans started to take over at schools like Lenana and Nairobi school which were the bedrock of Kenyan rugby, producing virtually all the national team players. Today Kenyan schools churn out low calibre players who lack basic rugby skills and technical astuteness. This has been true since the 1980s. Most Kenyan schools do not do enough to polish the skills of rugby players.   The standard of coaching at Kenyan schools is lower than it was in the 1960s and 70s. The level of coaching at club level has not improved much since the 1970s either. And most of the rugby decent infrastructure available at top clubs in Kenya amounts to what was left by the Europeans. The clubs that were not run by Europeans often do not have any infrastructure much less a home ground.

As such, it was not that difficult for Uganda to catch up with Kenya. If Kenya’s  other neighbours, Tanzania start playing rugby on a larger scale. they too will catch up with Kenya. Some may think this is ridiculous but many Kenyan fans in 1997 thought Uganda would never catch up with Kenya in rugby.

It must be noted however that Uganda’s emergence in rugby is actually good for Kenya as well. It fosters a rivalry which is ultimately good for the game at national level and at franchise level. Neither the Elgon cup nor the Bamburi super series would exist if Kenya was still beating Uganda 67-5. At this point in 2012 however , Uganda is making better use of this rivalry to sharpen and motivate their charges.

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