When the Zimbabwe Sables face the Rugby Cranes on Saturday at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in the final Africa Gold Cup game, they will have their mind also focusing on events elsewhere.
A loss for Zimbabwe, and a win for Morocco over Tunisia, will mean that the Sables are relegated from tier 1A of Africa Rugby, to tier 1B for the 2019 season.
And considering the winning spell in which Uganda is right now, following their 47-29 win over Morocco last Saturday, before which they had humbled Tunisia 67-12, Zimbabwe should be very worried. The Rugby Cranes are unrelenting.
“We are in such a good zone now,” said Rugby Cranes’ Michael Wokorach, after they beat Morocco. “And we are determined to end on a high note, in order to give our fans something to celebrate, following the troubled start we had to this campaign,” he added.
You see, this year’s Africa Gold Cup also doubled as the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers. But because Uganda lost 6-55 to Namibia in June and 22-38 to Kenya in July, its chances of qualifying for the World Cup went up in smoke.
So, what was left for the Rugby Cranes was not only to ensure that they secure their place in tier 1A. The only way they would have lost it, is if they had finished bottom of the six team competition. But ensuring that they finish third in the worst case scenario, in order to have a chance to host at least three of its five Africa Gold Cup ties next year.
Such an opportunity goes to the top three teams in the competition. As was the case last year, when Uganda finished third behind Namibia and Kenya, third place has been secured. That will save the Rugby Cranes the hefty travel costs, yet allowing them the benefit of home advantage.
With more home games, the chances of winning, and maintaining one’s tier 1A status are brighter. Yet, this weekend, there will be pride at stake, when they face Zimbabwe.
“We never want to lose at home. But besides that, we aim to build a winning mentality, because that is what it takes to become a formidable force,” John Duncan, the Rugby Cranes South African coach said.
After beating Tunisia 67-12 on August 4, before the win over Morocco, the winning run must continue against Zimbabwe. Duncan added that there have been some tactics and combinations they have been working on, as they usher in new players in the team. That makes a good display crucial.
Duncan said, “More than anything, I want to have a team, that plays well, not just individuals. So, we need to see players acquit themselves well so that they continue in the team. Consistency is important for us, to build a winning culture.”
At the beginning of this campaign, there were doubts that the Rugby Cranes would emulate the form of last year. This followed a series of injuries, that affected a good number of the key players, that had served the team so well in 2017. For example, the captain Brian Odongo was an important miss for the front row, as was his deputy Michael Wokorach.
Phillip Wokorach, the country’s best player, Ivan Magomu (fly half) and Marvin Odongo were all missing. Others like the experienced Matthew Ochwo, Alex Mubiru and Scott Oluoch were unavailable because of work commitments. At the end of it all, the team had been stripped of its spine going into the international engagements this year.
Although some of the earlier absentees have since returned to the fold, this campaign has been a platform for many upstarts. For example, Paul Ssekate (hooker), Robert Masendi (fly-half), Simon Olet and Solomon Okia, have shown that Uganda is not dead after all.
Like Wokorach pointed out: “We continue to grow. Against Morocco, we had some bad moments, where they pegged us back. But because we are getting better in every game, we still found a way to stop their short plays, and claim our victory.”
Last year, when Zimbabwe came down for the Africa Gold Cup, Uganda won 38-12 in what was a splendid display by the Cranes. They are determined to repeat it no matter the ripple effect it may have on Zimbabwe’s chances of staying in tier 1A.