Until June 2024, when the final slots to the rugby 7s competition in the 2024 Olympics will be determined, Tolbert Onyango and his Rugby Cranes 7s players can toast to some champagne for another milestone.
For the second time in Uganda’s history, the Rugby Cranes qualified for the repechage, which will be hosted in Monaco, France. However, even as they celebrate keeping alive Uganda’s prospects of making it to its first Olympics in rugby, the battles ahead are tough.
Uganda will have to contend with 11 other nations from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, North America and South America for just one slot to the Olympics village come July 2024. Inevitably, the thought of edging out South Africa, which beat the Cranes 26-14 in the semi-finals of the Africa 7s Rugby Championship played over last weekend in Harare, Zimbabwe will not be easy.
South Africa will be with Uganda in the repechage, after Kenya won Africa’s slot. But then, add Great Britain, Spain, Chile, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, among others, to that subplot.
Against that, one must believe Onyango when he says that there is a lot of work to do between now and June. In addition, Onyango said: “These boys did a tremendous job winning bronze ahead of the hosts. These results are a mark of how much we have improved as a team and, therefore, have closed the gap on many nations.”
The several international tournaments and strict training regimen that the Rugby Cranes have had over the last three years, are the reason for the fortitude shown by the team. During the preliminary stages, Uganda lost to Zimbabwe 05-35. Yet, bounced back to beat them in the decisive third/fourth place playoff 24-12.
Essentially, captain Ian Munyani and company stood tall when it mattered most, a mark of a side coming of age. This is even projected more, when one considers that so many changes have been taking place in this team in terms of player rotations.
Some of these changes have been enforced by injuries to players like Desire Ayera. While for others, work commitments have restricted them. Yet, for a team to maintain consistency even with such instability, points to game understanding.
Notably, Uganda’s 7s global ranking is number 18. Ordinarily, the odds should favour Great Britain (9), South Africa (7), and Spain (11) for the Olympics berth still at stake. But even while going down to Harare last Thursday, September 14, making the top three was not a foregone conclusion.
They had to fight to earn their place on the table of men and, according to Onyango, the mentality is not going to change going forward if they are to make the Olympics!