Rugby in Rwanda is booming after the national team’s historic tour to Hong Kong earlier this year.
Youngsters are taking up the sport in impressive numbers while the East African country is also attracting more and more women players.
And Rwanda’s fast expanding rugby scene will be given another boost in late November when three coaches from the famous Penguins academy pay a five-day visit to conduct a series of clinics.
“These are exciting times for Rwandan rugby,” confirmed Dave Hughes, organiser of last March’s visit to Hong Kong by the national team, the Silverbacks.
“There are now seven fully functioning and active rugby clubs in the country and the army and police also play the sport. One club, the Sharks, now have two youth teams, whereas before they didn’t have any, and the Buffalos also have a new youth team. And whereas previously clubs would enter just one team in a sevens tournament, most of them now enter two.”
Many of the teams in Rwanda are playing in kit donated by Hong Kong clubs.
Youngsters from Sharks U13s proudly display their jerseys which were donated by Hong Kong’s Valley RFC. (Pic: Two Up Front)
Hong Kong clubs donate kit
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union director of development Ruth Mitchell organised a hugely successful kit collection during the Silverbacks’ visit.
The players returned to Rwanda with more than 40 bin bags packed with unused team strips donated by the likes of Hong Kong Football Club, DeA Tigers and Valley.
“We recently organised a tournament in the capital, Kigali, and it was heart-warming to see so many of the teams kitted out in Hong Kong club strips,” said Hughes. “Ruth did an incredible job organising the collection and the response from the Hong Kong rugby community was overwhelming.”
Players from the National University of Rwanda (NUR) are pictured in their Hong Kong Football Club shirts. (Pic: Two Up Front)
Life-changing experience for Rwanda skipper
The Silverbacks – named after Rwanda’s signature mountain gorillas – made a huge impression both on and off the pitch during their 11-day tour to Hong Kong.
They finished as Plate runners-up in the inProjects Kowloon RugbyFest, a 10-a-side tournament featuring 14 teams from around the world.
South African rugby great Bob Skinstad was among the impressed spectators and immediately gave them an open invitation to play in the Cape Town Tens, the tournament he co-founded last year.
The Silverbacks also trained with two elite touring teams, Aliens from New Zealand and Penguins from the UK, while Penguins staff put them through a first-level IRB coaching course.
The team then attended the world famous Hong Kong Sevens courtesy of the HKRFU, who waived the cost of tickets.
The trip was a life-changing experience for the players and especially captain Djuma-Adams Mugabo, who grew up homeless on the streets of Kigali, selling cigarettes for a living, before taking up rugby.
An anonymous benefactor who read Mugabo’s inspiring tale stepped forward to fund his further education, meaning the Silverbacks skipper will start college later this year.
Rwanda captain Djuma-Adams Mugabo will be starting college later this year after his tuition fees were paid by a Hong Kong benefactor. (Pic: Two Up Front)
Penguins chip in
The Rwandan rugby community is now eagerly awaiting the visit by the Penguins coaching team which will comprise two Scottish Rugby Union employees – U18s head coach Grant McKelvey and referee development manager Colin Brett – plus Penguins manager Craig Brown.
“Their visit is already generating huge excitement and it shows just how far we have come in a short time that we are going to have international-level coaches conducting clinics in the country,” said Hughes. “It will have a massive impact on rugby development in Rwanda.”
Possible Cape Town trip
Hughes, a Hong Kong-born rugby enthusiast and Rwanda volunteer worker, has two priorities in the months ahead.
* The first is to organise the Silverbacks’ return to Hong Kong next March and, he hopes, take up Skinstad’s offer to play in the Cape Town Tens a few weeks before that.
* The second is to secure land for a purpose-built rugby pitch and clubhouse in Kigali. At present, all games are played on a threadbare school field.
“We’re aiming to secure enough corporate backing to achieve all these objectives,” said Hughes. “The first tour to Hong Kong really raised awareness of Rwandan rugby and we’re determined to build on that.”