Defending Rugby Africa Sevens champions and tournament hosts Uganda go into this year's event in Kampala knowing that a repeat of their success in Nairobi 12 months ago, 'a defining moment' according to coach Tolbert Onyango, would take rugby in the East African country onto another level altogether.
With victory comes the prize of qualification for RWC Sevens 2018 in San Francisco and an invitation to compete for the second year running at the Dubai and Cape Town Sevens this December. The regional runners-up would also join the African champions at next year's showpiece event in America, with both teams booking their place at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier in Hong Kong next April.
Uganda warmed up for the African Championship with a 10th-place finish at last weekend's Oktoberfest Sevens in Munich, with only Portugal and Chile behind them. But home advantage, and the experience they gained on last season's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, should stand them in good stead for the competition on Friday and Saturday.
The Rugby Cranes Sevens are in Pool A with Tunisia, Morocco, Zambia and Ghana, while Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Botswana and Mauritius make up Pool B.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
“There will always be pressure on the defending champions, firstly from ourselves and then the 40 million fans at home. But pressure is good, it will bring the best out of our players. We're looking forward to a good tournament at home,” said Onyango, a former Kenya international.
“This is a tournament of 'firsts' for us. This is our first tournament as defending champions, our first international sevens tournament of any kind at home, and it's the first time our fans will be able to see us live on home soil. Whatever happens will be history in the making.”
Uganda have never competed at a Rugby World Cup Sevens before, and Onyango knows qualification will come with positive spin-offs for rugby in his adopted country.
“It would mean the world to us, excuse the pun," he said. “It will lead to positive changes in the administration of the sport and playing structures and will certainly spur the growth of the sport at grassroots level.”
South Africa and Kenya qualified automatically for RWC Sevens 2018 after reaching the quarter-finals of Moscow 2013, and now Uganda are on the threshold of joining them.
But Onyango is fully aware that last year's results count for nothing. "We have to be better than we were last year. Based on results from various tournaments in Africa, it is clear that other countries have made huge strides since then.
“All the teams will be coming to Kampala looking to pick up one of those two coveted spots for the World Cup. Everyone is a threat.”
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