BY MAXY ABENAITWE
In the early years of this decade, the 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.
Significant players like Ivan Kabagambe, Pius Ogena, Desire Ayera, Wilson Nkole, Philip Wakorach, Ivan Magomu, Conrad Wanyama and Alex Aturinda are the veins that keep the national team breathing.
Over the years, Wakorach has been the most decorated player, whose talent is sought across borders: in Kenya and France. Equally, Magomu has been the best fly half. Ogena was recently awarded Male Rugby Player of Year 2019 under the Uganda Sports Press Association Awards, and 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. This has been done majorly through friendly matches between the shepherds and their alumni,”Kabagambe explains. 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
υApproximately 90% of the Shepherds attribute their success to UCU’s favorable environment that best suits sports development, the hills, drinking water all over the compound, good food, gym facilities.
ΣThe presence of dedicated coaches like Dennis Etuket whose skill set is at a high level.
ΣThe belief that all Rugby players that have ever held the Sherpherd name end up in good positions of the Rugby world. This history and tradition have inspired the Sherpherds to aim for the highest. The support from the administration particularly the various chances the players are given to unleash their talent as they represent the university.
ΣThe good medical attention specifically the physiotherapy helps the players to quickly get back on their feet and continue with their struggle.
ΣIt has also been on record for over a decade now that UCU sportsmen and women are the best people to work with. This is because of their remarkably good discipline. The factor of character has also contributed to the quick growth of the Sherpherds. Particularly in terms of signing up for strong national clubs as well as the Uganda Rugby Cranes.
The future of rugby
A rugby fan will agree that close to 50% of the Rugby clubs, the national team inclusive have ageing players. This means university students are being targeted. Therefore, there is great opportunity for the rugby players out there.