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Rugby League season kicks off amidst many changes

Ivan Magomu (L) of Pirates beats an Impis opponent

Ivan Magomu (L) of Pirates beats an Impis opponent

The 2024 Nile Special rugby league, which kicks off this weekend, will be played over one leg.

It is a draw back to the 2021 season, which was played in similar style because of Covid-19. After the 12 teams have played each other once in the first round, the top eight will face each other in a two-legged quarter-final and semi-final.

There will be a one-off final between the two teams, which will have won in the semi-finals. On the other hand, the bottom four will face each other in a semi-final, and the two that lose at that stage, will be relegated.     

However, while every fixture released has got a venue placed on it, Peter Odong, a Uganda Rugby Union (URU) executive member, said that there could be some changes depending on circumstances, as the season progresses.

For example, Odong noted: “Venue availability and flexibility will be considered at the beginning of every match week, to guard against the interruption and postponement of league games.”

Odong added that this new league format is not cast in stone as the final one until Kingdom come. Instead, it is a pilot format that the URU has chosen to adopt this year because of the many international activities that Ugandan rugby is going to be involved with this year.

A case in point, the Africa 15s Rugby Championship slated for July, which Uganda has bade to host. In addition, there is also the 7s rugby repechage in June, where Uganda is set to compete in for a slot at the 2024 Paris Olympics. With all those activities coming up, the league has a small window within which it can be played.

It is against that reason, that the URU decided that this year’s league will be played over one leg. Herein, URU and its members, the club chairpersons will agree on who hosts or travels for which game depending on some important factors.

According to Odong, the security and accessibility of the venue will be key in consideration. In addition, Odong explained that as URU, together with their sponsors, Nile Breweries, they want venues that can also create a vibrant atmosphere and a memorable experience for the fans. 

In essence, as a sponsor, Nile will inevitably love to see rugby grounds packed to the bream. But this can be more easily realized at grounds where fans can quickly travel to, and also be able to stay long into the night after games. Based on this, clubs like Black Pirates (King’s Park), Kobs (Legends) and Heathens (Kyadondo) may have the lion’s share of games.

However, that may disadvantage the smaller teams like Walukuba Barbarians of Jinja. Their coach, Leonard Lubambula said that last season, they travelled for more away games, which eats into their budget a lot.

“Each time we had an away game last season, we had to expend at least Shs 2.5 million on training, travel, food and accommodation,” Lubambula said.

In fact, Lubambula hopes with the one leg affair, maybe they can travel less. But then, can his Abbey Dhaira ground in Walukuba attract good gate collection? In light of that, Odong said that URU in its meetings with the clubs, has discussed revenue sharing so that clubs which travel most do not lose out.

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