Uganda will arrive in Monaco on Sunday hoping to take the biggest step yet on the team’s journey under head coach Tolbert Onyango.
It is now six years since the former Kenya international accepted an offer to coach the Cranes, and in that time Uganda have won two Africa Men’s Sevens titles and finished as runners-up in 2019.
The Cranes also appeared at both the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018, but so far their primary targets — Olympic and HSBC World Rugby Seven Series qualification — have eluded them.
Onyango and his players have an opportunity to tick off one of those objectives as they participate in the Olympic Repechage tournament.
And, the Kenyan coach believes success in Monaco could have a transformative impact on sevens in the country.
“It'd be great,” he told World Rugby. “Getting to the Olympics will change a lot for us. I'm assuming there'll be more funding coming through from the Olympic committee towards the sports.
“And, there will be kids around our playing fields in Uganda looking at what the national team is doing and having some self belief that there is a pathway for me to perform at the highest level, even if I'm still based at home.
“So, that'll be huge for us, and also from the admin point of view, it would mean that we need to beef up our administration, our organisation around the sport of sevens so that we can be able to maintain the levels where we are, that [helped us] get to the Olympics.”
Pressure to perform
Uganda’s preparation has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with the country placed under a curfew, meaning people must be at home every night by 21:00.
The majority of Onyango’s squad have day jobs or are studying, meaning that national training sessions have needed to be held early in the morning.
“Rugby is really in the semi-professional state at the moment for us in Uganda,” Onyango said.
“In the evening it's almost impossible to get a session in after work and then people get home before curfew time.”
Onyango was able to take his squad to Dubai in April and Stellenbosch last month, however, where the players measured themselves against top-level international sides.
Uganda have been drawn alongside France, Chile, Hong Kong and Jamaica in Pool B of the men’s Olympic Repechage tournament, and came up against Les Bleus twice at the Emirates Invitational Sevens in Dubai.
The Cranes lost both matches against the French, but they have better records against the other teams they will play in Monaco.
Onyango is hopeful that his players are able to handle the pressure of playing in the tournament as they attempt to cause a few shocks and book their ticket to Tokyo.
“A knockout tournament normally comes with its own pressures. Pressure to perform properly throughout the tournament, so there's no room for error — you snooze, you lose,” he said.
“Out of all those teams there we might beat Chile and Jamaica, though they've also gotten one up on us. And, I believe we've made some progress ever since we last played them.
“So, we are confident enough that if we stick to our game plan and play our structures, we should be able to get a good result at the end of the day.”