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Jinja Hippos: the surprise package in rugby league

Action from the league game between Jinja Hippos and Rhinos last season. Hippos have been outstanding this season

Action from the league game between Jinja Hippos and Rhinos last season. Hippos have been outstanding this season

After inspiring the Jinja Hippos to a 25-23 victory over the Rhinos at the Dam Waters last weekend, Yasin Wasswa is hoping to continue in similar form.

The full-back posted 20 of the 25 points the Hippos won by through six penalties and one conversion. That is some form going into the match-day 11 this weekend.

It is the final day of the round-robin stage of the 2024 Nile Special Rugby Premier League, before the knock-out round, from which the last team standing will be champion.

Wasswa is hoping that it can be them, following the fact that they have already beaten the odds in being guaranteed second seeding status. Last weekend’s game proved that Hippos are the true embodiment of the ‘never say die’ attitude.

With a minute on the clock, they trailed Rhinos 22-23. And although it was not one of their better displays this season, they managed to wrestle victory from the jaws of defeat, when Wasswa struck a good penalty from close to 40 yards.

“That is the mark of our character. We do not give in. But all that has come from trusting each other and working for each other,” Wasswa said.

Incidentally, this is the first time in Hippos’ ten-year existence, that they have climbed this high on the table of 15s rugby. Apart from Heathens, who are top, Hippos have the Pirates and Kobs, the more established historical teams of the division at arms-length. This is on account of the fact that they have only lost once to Pirates this season.

They beat Kobs and remain the only team to whom Heathens have dropped points this season, after they drew 20 all in their meeting. Heathens has beaten all the other teams, including their major nemeses, Pirates and Kobs. That tells one how resolute Hippos, winners of the sevens championship in 2022 have been.

For many, Hippos seemed a team built for sevens rugby. Yet, this time, they are proving to be a different beast altogether. Their target is to destabilize the 15s status-quo that has largely been dominated by Heathens (16), Kobs (13) and Pirates (2), the defending champions.

Hippos’ good form is quite at odds with logic. They have not been with most of their experienced stars. Timothy Mugisha and Dennis Etwau, some of the finest finishers in the league, have been away with the national sevens side, making them ineligible to play in domestic games.

Others like Tawfik Bagalana, Elifaz Emong, Maxwell Ebonga, John Echeru and Jacob Ocen have all been away for different reasons. These have ranged from contract, travel abroad, national team or injury issues.

Tim Grover, the director of rugby at Hippos, said: “The structure that has been built at the club from coaches like the late Robert Seguya to Saidi Atibu, and now Edmond Inyoyi, has brought through some really talented players. But even more significantly, squad depth has grown. But because we have good coaches, any player picked easily fits into the equation.”

Furthermore, Etwau said the team has many young players who are quite athletic and aggressive. Because of their fearless attitude, any opponent before them is an exciting challenge.

Overall, Hippos is such a balanced team with a strong pack led by  James Okello, Paul Siringiti and the experienced David Wako at eight, among others. Add the swift backs like Owen Mugogo, Emmanuel Odoi and Silver Kenyi, no wonder they are second to Heathens on highest scorers.

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