We were up early at 06.30 and prepared ourselves for a very busy day at the inaugural Conservation Cup Tag Rugby tournament. After dashing down to Tembo for breakfast, we were soon on our way to Kyambura as the tournament was due to begin at 09.00. We needn’t have bothered: when we got there only half the teams had arrived, so we busied ourselves by laying out the presentation tables with the Uganda and Union flags, the conservation cup itself, winners’ medals, raffle prizes and Larry the Leopard to guard them.
Eventually, the other teams arrived and after we had all made welcoming speeches the tournament got underway. Having watched the training closely on Friday I thought that Kafuro would stand a chance of making the final, but the standout team was St Johns who seemed to be fleeter of foot and thought than anyone else, and had thrashed Kafuro in a training game. St Johns were in Pool A and Kafuro were in Pool B with Kyambura, Good Hope and Katunguru.
Kafuro’s first game was against Kyambura and they made a good start leading four tries to one midway through the game. At this point they switched off and Kyambura got a couple of late tries back to make the game look closer than it actually was. With a first win under their belts, the team looked confident with both boys and girls working well together.
The next match was against Good Hope, who had won their first game against Katunguru. They had one little boy who, whenever they scored a try, performed a series of backflips. It was impressive stuff! The game got off to a poor start for Kafuro when Good Hope scored immediately, but then Kafuro really clicked into gear and scored five unanswered tries. Razzaq (Kafuro’s speedy winger) had clearly taken offence at the celebrations of his Good Hope opponent and celebrated each try Kafuro scored with double the amount of backflips! A late consolation try for Good Hope was not enough to take the shine off what had been an impressive performance. This win meant that Kafuro would qualify for the semi – finals, but they would need to win their final group game against Katunguru (a team of giants) to ensure they avoided St Johns.
The Njojos (elephants – the nickname for the Kafuro team) once again conceded an early try to Katunguru, but then started to run riot. Razzaq and Cambus (the Kafuro captain) were breaking the opposition line at will and Katunguru had no answer to the Njojo’s slick offloading game and blitz defence. The final score ended up Kafuro five tries to Katunguru’s two.
Following the conclusion of the group games, there was a break in the action so that the participants could focus on the other main aim of the tournament – conservation. Each team provided a speaker who talked about the importance of conservation to them. After this there was a ceremony where the children and I planted a tree and then Elinah (the community ranger for Kyambura) planted a second tree to symbolise the relationship through conservation between the UK and Uganda.
The tournament got back underway with the plate semi-finals first and then the main competition. Kafuro’s semi-final opponents were Kichwamba and this turned out to be a tense, tight game. Because it was semi-final, it was refereed by Dot from the Tag Rugby Trust and the games were longer too. Kichwamba took the lead early on, but Kafuro replied instantly and soon went ahead. However, Kichwamba scored again to peg them back. This turned out to be the story of much of the game: Kafuro scoring a good try and then Kichwamba replying in kind. In the midday sun, tempers began to fray and children from both teams were substituted for deliberately knocking the ball on or making contact with another player – don’t forget, this was TAG rugby!
With about three minutes to go, Kafuro took the lead and then performed heroically in defence making last ditch tags. Just when it seemed that they couldn’t hold out any longer, a loose Kichwamba pass was intercepted and the Njojos went the length of the field to score. Their spirit broken, Kichwamba immediately conceded a final try for the game to finish ten tries to seven to the Njojos.
After a brief break for lunch it was time for the final, but it was then announced that there would be a warm up game between the teachers and coaches. Because I had been helping out Kafuro, I was classed as a coach and Henry was picked with me; Mrs Green was picked in the teacher’s team. Playing any sort of rugby in 30°+ heat is not my idea of fun. I did it in the USA in my twenties and I had no desire to do so in Uganda in my forties. To make matters worse the game was played at a furious pace and in no time my suncream was trickling into my eyes and stinging them. The final nail in the coffin was that we were being soundly thrashed with Mrs Green playing a blinder by running straight and offloading before she could be tagged. I decided to take matters into my own hands and moved from the wing (where I had been loitering) and into the centre where I used to play in my prime (What prime? I hear you ask). Suddenly I began to see the ball and rather than running around like a lunatic I passed the ball into space and suddenly we began scoring tries. Henry got our first and then I got a couple, one of which was an interception – I can’t remember who threw the pass!
When the final whistle blew (thank God) we hadn’t won, but had certainly redeemed ourselves losing by only one try. I got some looks of respect from the children who I hope realised I wasn’t just a big muzungu with an even bigger mouth, but someone who is passionate about the game of rugby.
With the aperitif out of the way, the final could begin. Both teams had to parade on to the pitch and shake hands with each other before getting into a huddle for some final words of encouragement from their coaches. Muhudi (Kafuro’s coach) and I told them that they were underdogs and had nothing to lose, so they should enjoy themselves and play without any pressure.
The final began and St Johns immediately scored. It became obvious that the majority of the crowd were on their side and Kafuro looked as if they were up against it. However, within a minute Kafuro had the equalising score. This was to be the story of the game: St Johns going ahead and Kafuro immediately pegging them back. The scores were level at six tries apiece at half time. The second half was even more tense with desperate last minute tags on both sides preventing certain scores. As often happens, the game was settled by a controversial moment. St Johns scored, but was there a knock on in the build up to the try? With no recourse to a video replay the referee’s decision was final and rightly so. At this point Kafuro’s heads dropped and St Johns scored again with the last play of the game to win a brilliant final by eight tries to six. When the final whistle blew the St Johns players and teachers went mental and were quite literally dancing with delight on the pitch. The Kafuro Njojos were absolutely devastated and many of them were in tears. Muhudi and I calmed them down and told them how proud we were of them. It was crystal clear to me that this tournament really mattered to all of the children who took part and their supporters. My friend from last year, Wilber, had turned up in his school uniform to support his friends.
The trophy presentation and speeches took about an hour with the children sitting down silently throughout in the blazing sun. Ugandan children are well behaved as well as resilient. St Johns were delighted with the trophy and will return to defend it in a year’s time. I can’t wait! Many thanks to Nick Evans from CM Sports for the donation of the raffle prizes.
So was the tournament a success? In my view the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ The tournament was well organised and the children really enjoyed the opportunity to learn new skills, to compete and to make new friends. The conservation message was delivered clearly and the tree planting was a really nice touch. Yowasi did a brilliant job and worked tirelessly for the Twinning Project in co-ordinating the whole tournament. My thanks to Dot from the Tag Rugby Trust for all her hard work on the day. It is also clear that there is a pathway for the children to go on and play full contact rugby at secondary school and there are plans to establish an adult team in the area; the nearest club at the moment is at Hima, a two-hour drive away.
It was disappointing that some dignitaries did not attend, but UWA did send Elinah, the community ranger for Kyambura, Kafuro and Mahyoro. From speaking to Dot, who has many years of being involved with tournaments like this, she thinks it will grow on a year on year basis through word of mouth. Word will spread and people who missed this year’s tournament will want to be involved next year.
After we left the tournament we drove home to Mweya and relaxed for a couple of hours. Having felt like I’d lost half my bodyweight during the tag rugby I felt that I needed to re-hydrate. A couple of Nile Specials did just that. I then realised that tomorrow is World Ranger Day and I hadn’t managed to book a crater drive yet. I had an idea that it would be great to take a photo of a Ugandan ranger overlooking one of the crater lakes. I dashed down to the tourism office and then down to Tembo canteen where I was lucky enough to meet Joshua, the head of security and Dickson, the tourism manager. Within a minute, I had booked us on to the crater drive and met Robert, the ranger who would be accompanying us.
Dinner at Tembo was a very happy affair. We felt a real sense of achievement and were looking forward to what Sunday would bring.
Finally, thanks for he continued comments and questions. Clare Prior – what an excellent question. I will ask Yowasi on Monday. I think we will be mining a rich seam here.
Mr Burford – I will pass on your regards to Yowasi and also Farnborough’s news. He will be very interested.