RWANDA’s rugby players underlined the fantastic progress the sport is making in the country as they enjoyed a stirring run to the Cup semi-finals at the Altus Kowloon RugbyFest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
The Silverbacks, runners-up in the second-tier Plate competition 12 months ago, this time mixed it with the big boys before settling for third place overall.
“We’ve made a big step forward as a team and this has been a major improvement from last year,” said stand-in captain Vincent Kamali.
“Having reached the Plate final last time, our goal was to be in the Cup, compete hard and learn as much as possible. We’ve achieved this and we’re very happy to finish third.”
Rwanda made a storming start at RugbyFest, the popular 10-a-side tournament at King’s Park that featured 15 teams from around the world.
They topped Pool D with victories over Laos Development (14-0), Hong Kong Cricket Club (7-0) and Macau and Shenzhen (7-0), then defeated tournament hosts Altus Kowloon RFC 12-0 in the Cup quarter-finals.
Their run ended with a narrow 7-0 defeat – the first points they had conceded in the tournament – by King Penguins, a veterans team organised by renowned UK-based touring club Penguin International RFC.
But the Silverbacks recovered to finish RugbyFest on a high with a 33-7 victory over Australian side Double Bay in the third-place playoff.
The team continued their tour yesterday (Thursday) by attended a day-long Level 1 coaching clinic at Hong Kong Football Club organised by the Penguins Coaching Academy.
“We attended a basic coaching course last year and this is the next step up,” revealed Silverbacks captain Djuma-Adams Mugabo, who was forced to sit out RugbyFest with a knee injury.
“It will allow us to return to Rwanda with more coaching skills so we can continue to coach the next generation of players and ensure Rwandan rugby maintains its improvement.
“We are naturally extremely grateful to the Penguins and Hong Kong Football Club for making this possible.”
After the coaching course, the Rwandan squad will once again be spectators at the famous Hong Kong Sevens from 25-27 March.
Since the Silverbacks’ last Hong Kong tour 12 months ago, rugby has boomed in the East African country.
More young players have taken up the sport as a result of the positive publicity and playing kit and equipment donated by Hong Kong clubs has been put to good use.
Two of Scotland’s top coaches – former national team coach Frank Hadden and Scottish Rugby Union referee development manager Colin Brett – visited the country last November to conduct a series of clinics, once again organised by the Penguins Coaching Academy.
More good news arrived last month when the Rwandan Rugby Federation at last secured a home pitch, taking out a lease on a playing field belonging to a school in the capital, Kigali.
The Silverbacks’ 2011 tour is being funded by sponsorship from CB Richard Ellis, G4s, Woodland Pre-Schools and Emboss Capital.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union director of development Ruth Mitchell has once again successfully organised a collection of spare kit which will be used to equip teams in Rwanda.
“The response to Ruth’s kit collection has, yet again, been overwhelming,” revealed Rwanda volunteer worker Dave Hughes, organiser of the Silverbacks’ Hong Kong tours.
“These life changing rugby tours would not be possible without great support from the Hong Kong rugby community and, particularly, Altus Kowloon RFC.
“We would like to express our ongoing gratitude to Anson Bailey and Clive Hammond who have been, and continue to be, great friends of Rwandan rugby.”