It was a neat passage of play that Ivan Magomu says ‘will remain in my heart forever’. The Rugby Africa Gold Cup match between hosts Kenya and her western neighbour Uganda was deadlocked with nine minutes left to play.
“[Michael Wokorach] gave me the inside ball, which broke the Kenyan defence,” Magomu recalls before cracking into a knowing grin.
Sixty-three minutes earlier, the two had combined brilliantly to set up Charles Uhuru as Uganda drew first blood in the fixture that also doubled as a 2017 Elgon Cup return leg. Forty-five points later, the thoroughly absorbing match had swerved towards the edge of the precipice with a stalemate in the offing.
Michael Wokorach’s inside ball was about to put a cat amongst the pigeons.
After receiving the ball, Magomu fended off Kenya’s replacement prop before embarking on a memorable dazzling run punctuated with line breaks. “When I broke the line I thought about going all the way, but [Michael] kept calling. He was in a better place than I was, so I set him up and we scored.”
A penalty try, which Magomu thinks was harsh, earned Kenya a share of the spoils at the death. The decision to penalise Uganda late on saw their hosts snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, and with it an Elgon Cup La Decima. Much like his teammates, Magomu’s head dropped after the match as his opposite number Isaac Adimo wheeled away with unconcealed relief. “It felt like a loss,” Magomu said of the 33-all draw at RFUEA Grounds.
The match was the 20-year-old fly-half’s third in a Rugby Cranes strip. The two previous Tests - incidentally against Kenya - had produced defeats, but none was as an unremittingly bitter an experience as what the deadlock in the Kenyan capital delivered.
Uganda’s 45-24 loss at the same ground the previous year did sap enthusiasm, but, as the scoreline suggests, Rugby Cranes’ pulse was simply not strong enough.
Magomu had scored his maiden Test try by going directly under the posts following some brilliant work from Phillip Wokorach. The try helped Uganda scoop itself out of a 12-0 rut to lead 19-15 at some point. But the Kenya Simbas were not to be denied.
Ditto this year.
So, will next year be a classic case of third time lucky? Magomu hopes so. But he also reckons that his participation could depend on results from an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan on his right knee.
The knee injury is a long-standing problem that has been weighing heavy on the playmaker. “If it needs surgery, then I will have no option but to do it. If it means staying out for a year, I will stay out and come back better.”
The youngster, however, won’t sanction the MRI scan until after Uganda attempts a defence of its Rugby Africa Sevens title on home soil in October.
The tournament will offer Magomu a shot at redemption after he missed out on playing in the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier early this year.
“I had myself to blame,” he bites his lower lip. “The coaches told me I had made the team after putting in the hours. Then I had to go participate at the Namilyango College Old Boys Sports Gala, and unfortunately I twisted my knee in the football game.”
Football? Yes! Before warming up to the hand-egg, Magomu showed inexhaustible talents as a footballer. A blowhard by any description, Magomu says he was ‘a more than decent midfielder’ whose searing tactical clarity hauled him on the books of former topflight club Mbale Heroes. Everything, however, changed when he joined St Mary’s College Kisubi (Smack) in 2008.
Rugby is a religion in the sprawling school. While training as a first centre on his class team, Magomu caught the eye of the school’s games master at the time, who also happens to be a hand-egg enthusiast. “Our fly-half wasn’t creative,” Magomu recalls. “Mr. [Ronnie] Mutebi came around for a session and saw how I was running. Straightaway, he told me to try out as a fly-half.”
The rest is history.
Magomu would go on to enjoy a productive schools rugby career. It all started when he helped Smack win its first under-16 title in 2009. But then an ‘Ivan the Terrible’ streak in him surged to the fore. Smack had no choice but to consider the fly-half surplus to requirements. He was soon off to Hana Mixed SS where he met Phillip Wokorach and Alfred Bijik. “We were unstoppable, and I remember we won everything.”
His proudest moment in schools rugby arrived in 2010 when he beat Justin Kimono and Phillip Wokorach to the MVP title in the short version of the sport.
“My lowest moment,” he says, “was when we lost to Hana in the final with 10 minutes left to play.”
That was 2013. The fly-half had joined Namilyango College for his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE). Namilyango has loose ties with Betway Kobs, but in 2011, during his Form Four vacation, Magomu said yes to their rivals Black Pirates after a short courtship. He went on to score on his league debut against Kobs.
Recently, Edmond Tumusiime who distinguished himself as a fly-half for both Kobs and Uganda gave Magomu a ringing endorsement, saying the 20-year-old is well placed to eclipse him. “I feel humbled. I have heard a lot of people wondering who will fill Edmond’s shoes. I have spoken to Edmond. He keeps on telling me to work harder.”
And work harder he has! Possibly to the point of straining his knee to the limit. While many opine that Uganda is shorn of decent fly-halves, Magomu begs to differ. “There is James Ijongat. We are both running fly-halves. I believe he can fit in well. Then there is the option of Phillip Wokorach playing 10 too.” Whatever the case, Magomu has cemented his place in Rugby Cranes’ XV, and - barring a disaster of epic proportions - he should be a mainstay for a long period.
Name: Ivan Magomu
Date of birth: September 6, 1996
Test caps: Six
Test tries: Two
Role model: Dan Carter