Going into match-day 18 of the Nile Special Rugby Premier League on Saturday, May 13, the odds were stuck against the Stanbic Black Pirates.
First, Pirates were going to enemy territory, (the Legends) where they would not enjoy home advantage. Secondly, the only game Pirates had lost in the league in the 2023 season had come against Kobs in the first round, 30-25.
It had been a painful loss, looking back on the manner in which it had happened. For quite a while in that game, the result had stood at 25 apiece, and Pirates seemed to have settled for a draw, to maintain their unbeaten run. That was until a breakaway move by the Kobs at King’s Park, Bweyogerere, saw them score a winning try at the death.
Essentially, the third factor working against Pirates going into “title decider day” was the psychological edge. In addition, Kobs were leading the table heading into the final match-day, if not for the head-to-head advantage over Pirates, (both teams were on 75 points) they had a points difference of 523 against their visitors’ 323.
Yet, even more crucially, was the fact that Kobs carried more pedigree. They are 14-time champions compared to Pirates, who had only won once in their 25-year history, which was back in 2018. Pirates had been dubbed so many names. From perennial bridesmaids, chokers to no winning mentality. Everything was stuck against them!
However, May 13, 2023, will be remembered for the fact that the Pirates arrived, defied all odds, shut out the noise of the nay-sayers and finally conquered in such emphatic fashion; leaving no room for suggestions that they fluked their way to the holy grail. Pirates’ 23-7 victory over Kobs was a mark of not only their resolve but also the work put in at the training ground.
Coach Marvin Odongo said: “After we lost to Kobs in the first round, we went back and reviewed our display on the day. We realized that we had not played well defensively. As a team, we had not done a good job bridging. So, that made us susceptible to being broken up whenever Kobs attacked, as they easily found gaps between our lines.”
That was the day that Kobs’ Adrian Kasito, Ian Munyani and Pius Ogena easily found space to run into. It was such an open game seeing how high the scores were. For the neutral, it was the perfect game; both teams going at each other. Yet, for Odongo, that was unacceptable. His team had to be more robust and impregnable.
The sea-robber mentality, where they loot with tact, and leave no trace or chance of being caught, was certainly missing essentially. Odongo admitted that seeing how Heathens and Kobs have been so dominant in the 33 years of the rugby premier league, he felt envious. But at the same time, Pirates as a team had to aspire and learn what it takes to be the big boys in the league.
According to Odongo, Kobs and Heathens carry bundles of self-belief. That has made them adopt a mentality that winning is their birthright. Therefore, they walk onto the field every other game believing they must win by hook or crook. It is a facet they showcase in their approach to every game.
So, Pirates had to carry the same attitude. But it required adequate preparation. Odongo said: “We had to make sure that we work their best players defensively, in order to negate the attacking threat they carry. For example, we kept Ogena, Joseph Aredo, Justin Kimono, Munyani and Kasito very busy with the pressure we put on the ball. And because of our speed, we forced them to make mistakes like being offside, hands in rack or not releasing tackled man. This earned us penalties in inviting positions, which we scored.”
At the end of the first half, Pirates led 9-0 following three well-taken penalties by Ivan Magomu. Yet, when they returned for the second half, Kobs’ looked leggy. Faraj Odugo and Collin Kimbowa, two of the three front row players looked exhausted. While their support cast in the pack, including Emmanuel Ecodu, Mike Otto, Byron Oketayot, and Ogena did not seem to have the energy to stop the two second-half tries by Timothy Odongo and Desire Ayera, that gave Pirates an unassailable lead.
Brian Makalama, the Kobs coach said in the aftermath of the game, that they were second-best throughout the game. Indeed the hunger possessed by the Pirates picked apart the Kobs, who, even with a draw, another of the odds they had in their favour, would have clinched a fifteenth championship. But it is Pirates that registered a second. And although they remain 12 behind, on the day, Pirates showed that they are equal to Kobs, and Heathens!