Kenya Simbas v Uganda Cranes: Who will blink first in World Cup qualifier?

Philip Wokorach

Uganda's Philip Wokorach runs to score a try during a the Africa Men's Sevens World Cup Qualifying Tournament match between Uganda and Tunisia at the Kayadondo Rugby Grounds in Kampala in April 2022.


Photo credit: Eddie Chicco | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Wokorach starred for Kenya Cup champions Kabras Sugar from 2016 before signing for French Fourth Division side Bourges XV for a season in 2019.
  • Wokorach then joined his current club, French Division Three side, Avenir Sportif Bédarrides-Chateauneuf du Pape (ASBC).

Uganda Cranes Rugby back Philip Wokorach’s trademark sidesteps are well known locally.

Wokorach starred for Kenya Cup champions Kabras Sugar from 2016 before signing for French Fourth Division side Bourges XV for a season in 2019.

Wokorach then joined his current club, French Division Three side, Avenir Sportif Bédarrides-Chateauneuf du Pape (ASBC).

The 28-year-old Wokorach is among seven players in Uganda Cranes who have had a taste of the Kenya Cup League.

The players will be at the centre of Cranes team that will play Kenya Simbas in their 2023 Paris Rugby World Cup Africa qualifier on Saturday at Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence, France.

Wokorach, who plays at wing, centre and fullback, had his 15s international debut against Kenya in the Elgon Cup, an annual Test fixture between the two regional rivals in 2016.

Uganda lost 48-10 in the first leg in Nairobi and 45-24 in the return fixture in Kampala.

Wokorach is joined by front-row Asuman Mugerwa, who guided Kabras Sugar to their Kenya Cup and Enterprise Cup in March and April respectively this year.

Kenyan-born back-row Scot Oluoch has been a regular in local rugby circles, having studied at St Mary’s Yala before playing for Mwamba and Kenya Harlequin.

Forward Mark Omoding plays for Quins while another forward Eliphaz Emong once played for Homeboyz and Kabras Sugar with backs Joseph Aredo and Solomon Okia playing for Quins.

Cranes Rugby head coach Fred Mudoola handed seven players their first international cap in his squad of 28 that is a sprinkle of experience and youth.

Among the forwards, prop Alema Ruhweza, lock Akera Komaketch and flank Alhaji Manano will be up to make their Rugby Cranes debut.

Backs Thomas Gwokto, James Mugisha, Timothy Odongo and Joseph Oyet are all up for that precious first cap.

The Simbas and Cranes met last at Elgon Cup in 2019 where the Cranes won the first leg in Kisumu 16-13 before Kenya turned the tables in Kampala, winning 16-5 for an aggregate 29-21 victory to retain the Elgon Cup.

Uganda has only won the Elgon Cup twice since 2006, in 2012 and 2006, with the Simbas stumping authority throughout.  

“We are heading to France to showcase what Uganda can do,” Mudoola told Daily Monitor on Monday before departure.

Modoola disclosed that he has been trying to grow the pool of players especially after separating the sevens from 15s.

“It has generated a lot of debate whether it is good or bad, we will see in the long run but it gives an opportunity to more players especially the younger ones,“ said Mudoola.

The Simbas' participation in South Africa’s Currie Cup First Division seems to have brought out the best in their set-pieces, especially the scrummages and lineout delivery.

“The Simbas now have a better tactical set up but the Ugandans look bigger, especially at the forwards,” says rugby analyst and commentator, Peter Ndonga.

“Our set pieces and breakdowns are superior, and our backs are more lethal but the Cranes will thrive on loose balls,” reckons Ndonga.

The winner between the Simbas and Cranes will set up a semi-final clash with either Senegal or Algeria, who will play later in the day at the same venue.

At the other side of the draw Namibia face Burkina Faso on Friday at Stade Delort, Marseille with the winner securing a date with either Zimbabwe or Cote d’Ivoire, who will meet on the same day.

Michael Kwambo, Kenya Rugby Union media manager, agrees with Ndonga that the Currie Cup experience has seen Simbas grow mentally stronger.

Kwambo singled out the Simbas performances when they rallied from 17-0 to stop the visiting Elephants 41-24 in Currie Cup.

“Their ability to hang on against the Leopards for the 51-35 result in their other Currie Cup match showed the Simbas’ ability to play the entire 80 minutes, just the way you need to play a knockout fixture,” notes Kwambo.

“The Simbas should dominate the Ugandans all round, in the forwards and backs.”

Cranes Rugby squad

Forwards: Collin Kimbowa, Asuman Mugerwa, Alema Ruhweza, Santos Ssenteza,  Faraj Odugo, Ronald Kanyanya, Akera Komakech, Charles Uhuru  (vice-captain), Eliphaz Emong,  Joaquim Chisano, Robert Aziku, Michael Otto, Alhaji  Manano, Jacob Ochen, Pius Ogena, Scott Oluoch, Mark Omoding
Backs: Paul Epillo (vice captain), Conrad Wanyama,  Joseph Aredo, Ivan Magomu (captain), Thomas Gwokto, James Mugisha, Timothy Odongo, Solomon Okia, Lawrence Ssebuliba, Joseph  Oyet, Philip Wokorach

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