- RUGBY. Ivan Kirabo’s rugby journey started at the tender age of 12. The 21-year-old, who plies his trade in Kenya with Kakamega-based side Kabras Sugar donned the Rugby Cranes jersey for the first time in the Elgon Cup loss to Uganda - to the surprise of many, himself inclusive.
When Rugby Cranes coaches Robert Seguya and John Duncan released the match day squad for Uganda’s opening game of the international calendar against Kenya in the Elgon Cup three weeks ago, the most surprising inclusion was ‘Ivan Kirabo’.
The inclusion surprised many, including a cross-section of journalists at the press conference to announce the 23-man squad at Legends Rugby Club.
But Seguya had a response lined up for them.
“Kirabo is playing in a strong league and for one of the best sides in Kenya, he has what it takes to perform on a big stage for Uganda,” he defended the scrumhalf’s selection.
The rest would turn out to be history.
Kirabo’s debut would culminate into a 23-18 loss to Kenya but his performance left onlookers nodding in approval.
“I think I did well today because I knew some of the Kenyan players. I also hope I get more caps in future,” Kirabo would say after his first Cranes’ cap.
The pint-sized lad was at it again two weeks later as he put up another monster performance in Nairobi as Kenya had to cling on for dear life by forcing a 33 all stalemate at the death.
Born on December 26, 1996 to Edward Peter and Harriet Mugisha of Naguru, the hub of Ugandan sport, Kirabo could have opted for another discipline. But growing up as the last born in family of five boys and two girls helped him look up to brothers who all tried out their luck in rugby. “All my brothers played game and that’s how I got hooked,” he recalls.
Out of the five siblings, only two remain active rugby players - Kirabo and Byron Atubikire who plies his trade for the Shell Rimula Rhinos.
“He influenced me to join the game and taught me a lot about the game, I still get advice from him,” he speaks of Atubikire.
In 2008, at the tender age of 12, Kirabo started spending more time around rugby grounds Legends, then Kampala Rugby Club and Kyadondo RFC which were in walking distance from his home. It’s from these frequent visits to rugby grounds that he joined the Kyadondo Tigers’ Under 14 side coached by ex-Lady Cranes captain Christine Kizito.
After the stint with Tigers, Kirabo became a journey man with stints at Bootkamp, Summerkamp (Warriors), Boks, Kobs and Rhinos before Kenyan outfit Kabras Sugar would come calling. Kirabo was also part of the Kololo SS side that won the School’s League on their first attempt in 2014.
Around 2014 moneybags Kabras Sugar became the ideal destination for Ugandans seeking to earn from rugby because of the huge salaries they dished out.
Kirabo joined the growing list and hit the road to Kakamega, home of Kabras but his first stint there did not last long after receiving news that his mother was bed ridden.
“I got a call that my mother was really sick, so I packed my bags and returned to Uganda to be next to her,” recalls Kirabo. His mother would pass on weeks later, something that disrupted his rugby career.
“After mom’s death I decided to remain in Uganda and play with Rhinos again because I wanted to be near home after such a tragedy,” he reminisces.
A season down the road - as he prepared for a training session with Rhinos - his phone rang.
His screen showed ‘Syrus Wathum’. Wathum was one of the many Ugandans who had joined Kabras. On picking up, Kirabo was shocked to learn it was not Wathum on the other end of the phone but Kabras coach Anthony Ogot.
“I picked up and he asked me to head back and join them, he convinced me I was better off playing in Kenya and it would make me a far better player than I was,” says Kirabo.
The call turned around the scrum half’s decision and he got the next bus to Kakamega just in time for the 2016/2017 season. Kirabo’s second stint with Kabras turned out just like Ogot had promised on phone. Kirabo matured into a better player to extent of dislodging former Kenya international Edwin Achayo from the number nine position.
The season also saw Kirabo pick up three man of the match awards, turning into an integral part of one of Kenya’s best sides. He is also Kabras’ first choice kicker despite having Phillip Wokorach on the team but the latter is ahead of Kirabo in the pecking order on the national team. Kabras’ season saw them lose both the Kenya Cup and Enterprise finals to KCB but Kirabo had made a bold statement for himself that was about to elevate him to the next level.
Kirabo admits that he never expected a Cranes call this soon but later.
“It caught me by surprise when coach Seguya gave me a call and asked if I was willing to train with the team. It had never crossed my mind” says Kirabo whose surprise would turn into shock when he made the cut to start against Kenya.
“I thought I had no chance because I joined late although I kept pushing and it paid off,” he explains, adding he cannot wait to get more caps, starting with the Gold Cup tie against Tunisia within a week.
Name: Ivan Kirabo
D.O.B: December 26, 1996
Place of birth: Naguru
Club: Kabras Sugar
Role Models: Allan Matsiko, Ivan Markmot, Aaron Smith
Best player: Alex Mubiru (he is always encouraging me on and off pitch)