Uganda coach Tolbert Onyango is hopeful his side’s experience at the recent Commonwealth Games can act as a springboard to success at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
Twelve men’s and as many women’s teams have made their way to Chile for this weekend’s tournaments, with the winner of each securing their place as a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023.
For Onyango, qualification for the Series would not only be the culmination of five years’ hard work but would “change everything” for aspiring male sevens players in Uganda.
“It would create a pathway for the young players who are picking up the sport,” Onyango told World Rugby.
“[It would] show them that even if you pick up the sport locally you can go and play internationally and be recognised for your efforts.”
“GOOD RESULTS ALL ROUND”
Uganda warmed up for the one-off Challenger Series event in Santiago, Chile by competing in the Commonwealth Games at Coventry Stadium at the end of July.
Although defeat to England in their final match confirmed a 10th-placed finish for the Cranes Sevens, it was only their second loss of the tournament.
Having lost their pool stage opener against Kenya, Uganda came within a kick of beating Series contenders Australia, who had been reduced to five players in the closing stages.
Philip Wokorach’s late try levelled the score at 12-12 but he was unable to land the touchline conversion or a subsequent penalty as the match ended in a draw.
That result effectively ended their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals in Coventry but they recovered to beat Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Tonga before losing to England in the ninth-place play-off. Wokorach, meanwhile, finished the men’s tournament as its top points-scorer.
“Our goal was to get out of the group. We didn’t, so we were disappointed with that,” Onyango said.
“On the flip side, we were happy with the way that we played the two [pool] games against Australia and Jamaica.
“Not so much Kenya, because against Kenya we started off slowly and with two yellow cards we couldn’t really win that game, we were handicapped already.
“We were happy with the results and where we ended up, 10th. By the time it was the last game, playing against England, we were pretty off our feet, the guys were aching and tired. But good results all round.”
He added: “It was good to have a tournament. Ever since we played the Africa Men’s Sevens, which was about three months ago, it was the only tournament that we had so it was good prep.”
Jamaica and Tonga, who Uganda beat at Coventry Stadium last month, will also be in Santiago, however both have been drawn in Pool B.
Uganda appear to have been given a daunting task, lining up in Pool C alongside Germany and Uruguay, who each finished in the top five of the inaugural Challenger Series standings two years ago, and Lithuania.
Germany beat Uganda 19-12 at the 2020 Challenger Series event in Viña del Mar, which was their fourth consecutive victory in the fixture since their first meeting in 2017.
“It’s a tough one. We’ve never won against Germany even though we played them for four years back-to-back-to-back [from 2017],” Onyango said.
“So, it’s clear they have the upper hand on us. Uruguay as well, we last played them at the last World Cup, but we saw them in 2020 where they were very good and it’s going to be tough.
“It’s going to be tough to get through that pool, but we’ll give it our level best and see how the results pan out for us.”
Having come so close to securing a memorable victory against Australia last month, how confident is Onyango that Uganda can emerge from Pool C this weekend and win the Challenger Series?
“It’s about getting out of our pool and getting to the top eight,” he insisted. “Getting to the top eight will be our priority.
“You can never be too sure about these things but we are geared up, we are ready to go and we will leave it all out on the pitch.”
Story Courtesy/World Rugby