The constant aerial ping-pong in the vast majority of Nile Special Rugby Premiership matches this season has led to a growing consensus that running rugby in Uganda is suffering a kick in the teeth.
While the surfeit in kicking has not quite seen ball-in-air time eclipse ball-in-play time, purists have reason to worry because putting the boot in is known to significantly choke off skill-sets that encourage players to run and counter-attack.
This doesn’t mean that kicking out of hand should be frowned upon entirely. Far from it. Last weekend’s thrilling match between Heathens and Pirates showed some of the benefits of a measured kicking game.
Pirates might have lost the arm-wrestle 18-15, but they managed to strike a trade-off between running rugby and constructive kicking.
The Sea Robbers were not afraid of running the ball from deep, with a dummy pass from fullback Haruna Mohammed providing great entertainment for the capacity crowd at Kyadondo Rugby Club midway through the second half. Such soft on the eye displays — along with the big hits (of course) — are undoubtedly what spectators pay to see.
Mohammed is one of the silkiest runners in Ugandan club rugby. Although his first instinct is to attack, he has also built the reputation of someone who uses his boot constructively. Opponents have come to expect a huge amount of garryowens from him. This could be down to the fact that he regularly plays with one of the best controlling No.10s in Uganda, Ivan Magomu.
Pirates’ first receiver showed last Saturday that he is hardly one-dimensional. We got to see not just weaving breaks out of his own 22, but also a cultured boot.
Magomu always looked to profit rather than put the ball out of play during what turned out to be an absorbing contest. The highlight was of course a cross-kick that set up Mohammed’s try in the second half. The fly-half also repeatedly found touch with some superb kicks.
Magomu, however, came up short with his place kicks. He wasn’t alone.
Heathens’ pair of Paul Epillo and Robert Masendi were found wanting until Simon Okwera proved to be the unlikely hero. In the main though, place kicking remains a facet Ugandan players are yet to gain mastery over.
It is a deficiency that can easily be addressed through repeated practice. But as it turns out, no one is willing to spend a disproportionate time under the unforgiving February heat practising kicks. This is rather unfortunate because - as last Saturday’s encounter showed - place kicks can be quite pivotal.