Counties tour impacts the future of East African rugby
You can't overestimate the extent of the positives - Martin Kasasira, Ugandan Union
England Counties have planted the seeds for an oak tree of East African rugby.
That’s the verdict from Uganda Rugby Union’s Martin Kasasira after the Counties’ three-match tour of his country and neighbouring Kenya opened a new chapter for rugby in the region.
In partnership with the Tag Rugby Trust, the representative team of the community game in England coached at schools for the deaf, orphanages and primary schools - a humbling and life-changing experience for the players.
They also worked with senior teams, the Ugandan women’s sevens squad and the Counties’ doctor Andy Smith and physiotherapist Rachel Galley carried out training for the Union’s medical staff. Kasasira said: “It has taken our perception, our thoughts of where we can take the game to a whole new level.
They have touched peoples' lives - Kasasira
“The tour has been a huge success already but it’s exciting to think that the fruits of that success which will be enjoyed by our children and our children’s children are yet to happen.
“One day we will be able to look back and say that during that tour we planted the seeds which created the big oak tree standing in Uganda Rugby.
“What it has been able to achieve for the youth, for the up and coming rugby players, the work that the England players have done off the rugby pitch, the outreach programme that they have been involved in, the peoples’ lives that they have changed and touched – you can’t overestimate the extent of the positives , they are limitless.”
The Counties took on the Ugandan Barbarians (66-13) before playing the Elgon Warriors in Kampala (39-5) and Nairobi (34-14). The host side was formed of the best players from Kenya and Uganda, the two countries which border Mount Elgon, while the term Warriors implied what they thought it would take to beat the English.
When the two teams ran out at the Kenyan Rugby Football Union Grounds, Nairobi parallels were drawn with a fixture which was played at the same venue 50 years ago between an East African select and the British and Irish Lions who were returning from a tour to South Africa.
Kasasira added: “This has taken us back to the traditional rugby touring spirit. The players have fraternised with each other, shared experiences, development and friendships.
“We have seen your players interact with us - they have shared their knowledge and inspired their opposite numbers.”
Already the Kenyan and Ugandan Unions have been encouraged to submit a proposal to the South African Rugby Union for the Elgon Warriors to be included in the Vodacom Cup, the competition in which Argentina compete and has been influential in their development.
Kampala’s Kyandondo Rugby Club, the venue of the tour’s first and second matches, has also since confirmed plans to develop the ground and extend the capacity to 11,000.
Unity has been created between the Kenyan and Ugandan Unions and it has proven what can be achieved when they combine. The Counties’ matches were televised and the tour has raised the profile of the sport in both countries. The crowds created an unforgettable atmosphere and demonstrated the growing passion for rugby.
Kasasira added: “However much of a privilege the Counties think it has been to tour here, multiply that over and over to understand how we feel. It has made us realise that we can host a professional tour and hopefully other Unions will look to follow in England’s footsteps.
“I said before the tour, I’m not sure who is going to win, and it sounds cliche, but I said that the real winner would be rugby and you can look back on the past month and know that rugby has undoubtedly won the day.”