Rugby is a fast growing and appreciated sport in East Africa and Rwanda in particular. The game in some EA countries such as Kenya and Uganda is taking on an international outlook.
Kenya recently changed its venue and adjusted its calendar for its premier 7s tournament, the former Tusker Safari 7s now called Safaricom 7s.
It moved the tournament from the smaller RFUEA Grounds to the bigger Nyayo national stadium and the dates from June to November. This is in an attempt to increase Kenya’s possibility to host part of the lucrative IRB 7s series.
In Rwanda, a lot of progress is also being registered. Rwanda has been taking part in the prestigious Hong Kong 10s that precede one of the IRB 7s series hosted in Hong Kong and aptly called the Hong Kong 7s. The Hong Kong 7s are some of the biggest and more flamboyant of the 7s series.
Taking part in the 10s, gives the Rwandan boys a chance to watch their TV rugby stars up close.
The Rwandan national men’s teams (7s and 15s) are steadily getting the much needed exposure to international engagements. Invitations have been flowing in at a steady pace.
They now regularly feature in the Jinja Nile 7s, Nakuru 7s, Safaricom 7s, Makerere 10s, have hosted and won the Confederation of Africa Rugby 15s tournament South Division more than once. In due course, respect for Rwandan rugby has grown tremendously.
The progress made by the men’s teams can probably be attributed to the growing national 15s league and the various 7s tournaments held at various venues.
Now, what about our sisters? Hey, don’t gasp. Our sisters not only love the game of rugby but are also playing it.
But are they playing as much rugby as they would like? Are they getting as many invitations for regional and international tournaments as their male counterparts? I think they are playing the game, alright.
I think they are getting many invitations. However, they are not playing as many games and their invitations are starting to dwindle. This is because they have not been honouring or accepting the invitations till lately.
There is a time Rwandan women’s rugby had really picked up. Between 2005 and 2007, it was at its peak. Rwanda was actually among the 9 elite teams invited to what would have been a once in a lifetime tournament in South Africa.
It was for the top nine athletic teams on the continent. Unfortunately, the tournament organizers called it off due to among many reasons, lack of sufficient sponsorship. However, Rwanda had been invited. Our girls were that much respected.
Among the country’s star players, one who will always have respect in Rwandan rugby history is Angelique Nzabanita. She had pace and power and determination second to no other’s.
Nzabanita took the MVP and Top Scorer’s awards in the CAR Women’s tournaments held in Uganda twice, in 2005 and 2007.
Our girls are returning to the game and with more hunger. Last year, Lions de fer, one of the leading and oldest clubs in the country, organized a Women’s Day 7s tournament.
The tournament attracted eight teams countrywide. These were Groupe Scolaire Remera-Rukoma, College Appec Remera-Rukoma, Groupe Scolaire St Paul, Emeru Ruhango teams A and B, Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame Nyamagabe, Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame Cyanika teams A and B, and Lions de fer Rfc’s women’s side.
Groupe Scolaire Notre Dame from Nyamagabe beat perennial winners Groupe Scolaire Remera-Rukoma. The tournament, given the numbers of fans it attracted, was a great success.
Return to international stage
The national women’s team was also invited and took part in CAR Women’s 7s, South Division tournament held in Gaborone, Botswana.
The results were not flattering probably due to the many years on the sidelines but earned the team some friends in the IRB.
The team was lauded for its high level of discipline, commitment and passion. It also had the youngest players. This could mean a brighter future for the national team if these young girls are given all the necessary help and encouragement.
IRB Women’s development officer, Susan Carty, CAR representative at the tournament, Cliffie Booysen and CAR Women rugby developer, Gifty Ann Myers, pledged support to a team in which they saw a lot of potential.
The onus is now on the Rwanda Rugby Federation and all rugby stakeholders to not let down these girls and the prediction of the IRB officials.
They should prepare more local games for the girls in order to sharpen their skills. What I can say is, the girls are back and maybe will soon be competing with their male counterparts for sponsorship deals in the country.
The author is a rugby player and trainer.