UCU Shepherds gain notoriety in rugby world
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/03/ucu-shepherds-gain-notoriety-in-rugby-world/
(NOTE: Across the United States, March Madness refers to National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball competitions – a month when university rivalries are at their peak. While March Madness was cancelled due to the Coronavirus in 2020, these Uganda Christian University sports stories are offered in honor of what was to be. The stories are a collaborative of The Standard and UCU Partners.)
By Maxy Abenaitwe
In the early years of the past decade, the Uganda Christian University (UCU) 7s Shepherds were the untouchables of East African rugby.
As a result, the Uganda Rugby Cranes and other national clubs like the Black Pirates continuously fished from the Shepherds’ pond. It is no wonder that half of the Uganda Rugby Cranes are former Shepherds.
Rugby, which originated in England in the first half of the 19th century, is a sport involving two teams of 15 players each. They carry, pass and kick a ball into an end zone with winning determined by the greatest number of points. Often, the sport is known as “rugby sevens” for seven players per team engaged in seven-minute halves. The most basic law of the game is that no player is allowed to throw the ball forward to a teammate. In rugby, the ball is moved with sideways or backwards tosses or a player kicking and running with the ball.
Uganda had a deep history of men’s rugby participation ahead of the country’s first official rugby match in 1958. In 1955, the Uganda Rugby Football Union was formed. Much as there were no clubs at the time, games were frequently played between representatives from Kenya and Tanzania (or Tanganyika as it was called at the time) teams, but matches were mostly against the Royal Navy as well as some British and South African Universities. In 2000, UCU took on the rugby mantle and over time developed a great team of influential players.
Over the years, UCU players have been recognized for their talent. Philip Wakorach has been the most desired player, whose talent is sought across borders, namely in Kenya and France. Equally, Ivan Magomu has been the best fly half (receiver of a short pass). Pius Ogena was recently awarded Male Rugby Player of Year 2019 under the Uganda Sports Press Association Awards, and Desire Ayera was recently ranked 37th player of Uganda’s 2019 top athletes.
Considering their current maiden performance, the current Shepherds are leaving lasting marks. The team won gold at the 2019 University Side Step 7s events. The Shepherds went ahead to win during the 18th AUUS 2019 games at Kisubi University. And immediately after their remarkable performance, two players were called at the National Rugby Cranes team.
Ivan Kabagambe, a former Shepherds’ player, says the great performance is largely inspired by the success of the Shepherds alumni.
“The alumni have also kept in touch to ensure talent keeps growing,” he said. “This has been done majorly through friendly matches between the Shepherds and their alumni.”
Despite a few challenges, Kabagambe thinks there is no excuse for not making it at UCU. This signifies that with more support from the university, the team could do wonders since the passion and talent is there. If only the Shepherds could participate in more tournaments, have more funding and have enough designated rugby training space, more medals would be brought home.
Why the great performance
Approximately 90% of the Shepherds attribute their success in the larger rugby world to UCU’s favorable environment that best suits sports development. They cite the hilly landscape, availability of drinking water all over the compound, access to good food, and use of gym facilities as well as university administrative support and medical attention.
The good medical attention, specifically the physiotherapy, helps the players to quickly get back on their feet and continue with their struggle.
Additionally, UCU sportsmen and women have a reputation of being the best people to work with. This is because of their remarkably good discipline. The factor of character also has contributed to the quick growth of the Shepherds.
The future of rugby
Close to 50% of the rugby clubs, the national team inclusive, have aging players. This means university students are being targeted and have professional opportunities.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.