When Kenya butchered Uganda’s scrum at a sun-kissed Legends last year, many observers rightly flagged up the poor angling of Brian Odongo at tight-head. It oftentimes made for painful viewing seeing Kenya’s loose-head Moses Amusala munch Odongo during that match.
A player who can lock up the scrum and remain immovable on his own team’s put-in will always be of great utility. A lot more is expected from a tight-head though. Tight-heads are for all intents and purposes the cornerstone of the scrum on their side’s put-in. They are expected to counter the force of the opposition loose-head and hooker.
Odongo failed to force the opposition loose-head and hooker down as Kenya picked up a marginal road win. The Simbas were too effective in the loose so much so that their counter-rucking stopped Uganda from making any breaks in a scoreless second half.
After working on his body position, straightness of back as well as coordination of the collective dip and blast, Odongo bounced back to turn in accomplished performances as Uganda placed third in the Rugby Afrique Gold Cup. The recovery nonetheless never insulated his performances from entering terminal decline at the backend of matches (around the 60th minute). Not that this stopped Uganda’s backroom staff from trying to squeeze every ounce of effort they could from the experienced tight-head.
Odongo will sit out this year’s Gold Cup campaign following the recent surgery he had on a long-standing knee problem. There was a nerve-betraying moment after a blood clot was detected post surgery, but Nakasero Hospital officials have since said Odongo is out of immediate danger. His recovery will doubtless be a long process.
What also isn’t in doubt is the fact that Uganda finds itself grappling with a deficiency of front rowers (props and hookers) worth the while. With Asuman Mugerwa (who has also succeeded Odongo as Rugby Cranes captain) the only noteworthy member in the front row, expect opponents to lead an assault on the Uganda scrum.
It barely helps matters that Martial Tchumchum, who acquitted himself whenever he wore Rhinos’ strip in what turned out to be a groundbreaking season, won’t be available for national duty because of work commitments (he virtually lives out of a suitcase).
Upstarts like Ivan Wavamuno, Santos Senteza and Collin Kimbowa will have to really step up if they intend not to swim against the tide. True, the upstarts have been putting in hours of scrummaging, but it remains to be seen if they won’t engage the reverse gear when tons of pressure is applied to the scrum.
This column was written well before Uganda played South African outfit Supa Babas yesterday at Legends. Rugby Cranes’ backroom staff went with a front row of Wavamuno (loose-head), Paul Sekatte (hooker) and Mugerwa (tight-head). Senteza and Kimbowa were the replacement props. The choice of Mugerwa at tight-head is fascinating if anything because he has distinguished himself playing as a loose-head for the Rugby Cranes. That role will now be performed by someone else (an upstart) from the looks of it.
One former national prop told your columnist thus: “You’ll never make any inroads at loose-head if your neck isn’t strong.” The question then is: do Rugby Cranes have loose-heads with formidable necks that will lift the opposition tight-head? Make no mistake, stitching together a rock solid scrum will be vitally important if Uganda is to lock down a ticket to the 2019 World Cup.