This weekend marks match-day 13 of the Nile Special Rugby Premier League, and only five more rounds of the 2023 fifteens league will be left thereafter.
The stakes could not be any higher as Heathens, second on the log, take on Kobs, the table leaders at Kyadondo Rugby Club. Then, in Bweyogerere at the King’s Park, Black Pirates, third on the table take on fourth-placed Jinja Hippos. It will be the first time that Pirates will be playing at their home since Stanbic bank renewed its sponsorship of the club by a further two years last Friday, March 24.
Over that period, Pirates will receive Shs 160 million from Stanbic but in the immediate, perhaps for sentimental reasons, Pirates will have an opportunity to showcase the new jersey Stanbic bought them in their backyard.
Pirates looked quite inspired in their new jersey when they took on Impis last Saturday at the Graveyard in Makerere. Pirates won the game 32-10. However, that vibe will easily subside if Pirates do not register a win against a plucky Hippos side.
Following events of previous rounds of action, Pirates have a lot of ground to cover if they are to close the gap on their fierce rivals Heathens and Kobs. Having failed to get bonus points during victories over Rams and Buffaloes, as their main rivals have done, one against Hippos will be of the essence for Pirates, however hard that is likely to be.
At the same time, Pirates will be keen on proceedings at Kyadondo, where Heathens and Kobs clash this weekend with one prayer only; it ends in a draw! Until match-day seven, Pirates led the table standings. They were at the time the only unbeaten side in the league. But a 30-25 loss to Kobs did not only feel like a sucker-punch.
Samuel Ocanya, a Pirates official said: “At the point, I felt a draw would have been a fair result. We had settled for that because we know how tough Kobs are as a team. That result set us aback.”
Pirates dropped from first to third, making their life harder than earlier expected. Unlike Kobs and Heathens, Pirates have struggled to cope with the absence of Alex Aturinda, Desire Ayera, William Nkore, Timothy Kisiga and Mubarak Wandera, who are with the national sevens team preparing for the World Rugby series in South Africa next month.
While Kobs have also not been with Adrian Kasito, Ian Munyani, and Mark Osuna, as is the case with Heathens, who have not been with Michael Wokorach, Nobert Okeny, and Aaron Ofoyrwoth, Pirates have been stretched by sheer numbers. Instead, Pirates have had to rely on their youngsters, who lack the experience for this stage their talent notwithstanding.
Save for the set-back against Impis, when Heathens won without a bonus point, they have looked unfazed by the absences. Heathens have won four bonus points from a possible five in their last five fixtures. Equally, Kobs have picked up five bonus points from the five available.
In light of that, Kobs star Pius Ogena said “We were doing catch-up in the league, after Heathens beat us. There has been extra effort, which has paid off.”
Such effort will be needed against Heathens this weekend, for whom this fixture is make or break. They can only claim top spot if they beat Kobs. A draw between Heathens and Kobs, as Pirates will be hoping for. Provided Pirates beat Hippos with an unlikely bonus point, their total points tally would take them to 57. It would leave them tied with Kobs, and a point ahead of Heathens.
Notably, Kobs’ advantage is in the extra quality. Even with the absentees, of Kobs’ starting 15 last weekend against Rhinos, 11 have played for the national team. Five started on the bench. Conversely, only seven of Heathens’ starting 15 against Walukuba, were established internationals.
That fact should say a lot about the rugby championship, and where it could end up. But just how fulfilling it would be for Pirates and Stanbic, that their renewed marriage vows in 2023 are marked with the championship too. It would be a milestone and celebration to savour by the two parties, for sure.