The drubbing England Counties gave to Uganda Barbarians earlier in the week saw the local press bill Saturday’s game as the chance for revenge. Elgon Warriors is a new team born from an increased spirit of cooperation between the Uganda and Kenyan Rugby Unions and is made up of players from both countries. There were posters in the streets, leaflets in the hotels and adverts in the papers all promoting the game and when we arrived over two hours before kick-off there was already a sizeable crowd there.
The England Counties team management have done all they can to make the players feel at home at the ground so they can concentrate on playing, and we were shown the team changing room before they arrived. Although it was small they had hung up the shirts and put the shorts and socks in place, and had even painted the walls, one with a cross of St George and another with the O2 logo. The medical team had been just as meticulous, laying out their couches and equipment in their tent and ice-baths were ready for after the game.
This game is a big deal for local rugby and was televised live on African TV. Hospitality tents were laid on and the day was jointly hosted by the chairmen of the Ugandan and Kenyan Rugby Unions. RFU Junior Vice-President Bob Reeves had flown in for the game and he will be at the second game in Nairobi too. By kick-off the crowd had swelled to around 4000 spectators wanting to see the first representative rugby side to visit and play in Uganda.
The official match report is at www.rfu.com but the first half saw Elgon Warriors play a physical game than seemed to unsettle England Counties and they scored the only try of the half. Counties kicked two penalties and were lucky to go into the break with a lead. The half-time team talk did the trick however with England taking the game to Elgon Warriors from the restart soring three tries in 15 minutes.
The final score of 39-5 sounds convincing but the home team was a lot better than the scoreline suggests. Talking to some of their players they recognised that they struggled to maintain the intensity of the first half and when England changed their game plan they had no Plan B of their own to respond with. But this tour is about developing the game in East Africa so they will learn from the match and take lessons forward to the next encounter on Saturday.
Click here for pictures of the game
After the final whistle the British High Commissioner presented Rory Teague with the Man of the Match award and each team got a couple of crates of Nile Special from the sponsors. Then the pitch was swamped with young rugby fans all wanting to talk to the England players and get their autographs, and with music at full volume a party started with everyone dancing and laughing and enjoying the occasion. The players were icons in the eyes of the children and the way they responded made me feel incredibly proud of them, and I wasn’t the only one to wipe away a tear of emotion to see the game of rugby bring such joy to people who have so much less than us.
Click here for the story on the RFU web site including a video
The celebrations continued until, after watching the South Africa v England game, we headed back to the Kampala Sheraton for an official function. Players and management from both teams plus sponsors, officials and dignitaries sat down for a buffet at tables around the outdoor pool and listened to speeches and votes of thanks, but I had to leave early before the I’m sure the inevitable dunkings happened.
This was my last day in Uganda as I had to catch a midnight flight to Nigeria. I have happy memories of a friendly country that has so much potential, and I hope one day I will return.