Sunday, June 25, 2006
The inaugural CAR (Confederation of African Rugby) women’s rugby 7’s tournament was held in Kampala, Uganda on the 24th June 2006. Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia and Zimbabwe arrived in Uganda while South Africa jetted in on Friday evening. Uganda fielded two teams – Lady Cranes and a select Uganda side to replace the Nigerians who had pulled out of the tournament.
The games kicked off at 10:00am with great weather and apart from mid morning drizzle which quickly cleared up, it was a perfect day for 7’s rugby. Tournament top seeds South Africa started on the right note when they had a comfortable 26 – 00 win against 5th seeded Zambia. Looking decidedly rusty in the game against their southern sisters, South Africa however steadily improved as the tournament progressed. Their disciplined defence, ball handling skills and excellent team work made them stand out and it was clear that this was the team to beat. South Africa beat a gritty Uganda Select side 22 – 05 and finished off their preliminary games with a 14 – 00 win over 4th seeds Kenya leaving them top of Pool A.
Kenya, whose men’s 7’s side are a regular inclusion in the IRB 7’s circuit, also had comfortable wins over Uganda Select and Zambia beating them 33 – 00 and 22 – 00 to finish 2nd in Pool A. Zambia’s only win in the group stages was against Uganda Select whom they beat 21 – 00. Zambia and Uganda Select were 3rd and 4tth respectively in Pool A.
Pool B had second seeds Lady Cranes (Uganda) outplaying 3rd seeds Zimbabwe and Burundi. The Lady Cranes were determined to keep their unbeaten record and showed themselves a cut above the other teams in their pool in terms of pace and superior ball handling skills. Burundi was thrashed 56 – 00 while Zimbabwe were eclipsed by a similar margin of 54 – 00. Rwanda almost threatened to upset the East African queens and made the Ugandans work for a 24 – 05 victory. Rwanda is the fastest improving team in East Africa and showed their intent when they comfortably beat Zimbabwe 25 – 00 and hammered their hapless neighbours, Burundi, 41 – 00. Zimbabwe beat Burundi 15 – 00 in a scrappy game that highlighted the large gap between the two sides and the other teams in this tournament. Although Zimbabwe had the requisite skills they were unpolished and unfit while the Burundians had a very young enthusiastic squad who are yet to master the basics of the game. Lady Cranes topped Pool A, Rwanda was 2nd with Zimbabwe and Burundi 3rd and 4th respectively.
The first Plate trophy semi final matched Zambia against Burundi. Zambia easily disposed of the East Africans in one sided affair and humiliated Burundi 55 – 00. The second semi final was slightly more competitive and once again against pitted Southern Africa against East Africa. Uganda Select won their second game of the tournament when they beat Zimbabwe 22 – 00 to join Zambia in the Plate final.
The 1st Main Cup semi final was another one sided match with South Africa running all over the tired Rwandese to win 46 – 00. Rwanda paid the price of depending solely on one player (teenage sensation Angelique Nzabamita) to win their games as the speedy winger was too fatigued at this stage to make any impact as she had been doing in the earlier games. There was a small consolation for Rwanda at the end of the tournament as Angelique Nzabamita was awarded the Top Try Scorers trophy.The most exciting game of the tournament was perhaps the 2nd Main Cup semi final that was between arch rivals Uganda and Kenya. Ugandan fans expected the lighter, fleet footed Ugandans to run rings around their East African neighbours as they had done so frequently in the past. Those expectations were almost fulfilled when Uganda outpaced the Kenyans to score 2 tries (one of them a penalty try) in the first half and converted one to lead 12 – 00. Apart from Zimbabwe, the Kenyans were perhaps the heaviest girls in the tournament but their fitness was several notches above that of the southerners and they had pace and determination to go with it. The Kenyans recovered and sped their way to two tries one of which was converted to level the game at 12 -12 just before half time. After the half time break, Lady Cranes sought to put an end to the tension and went ahead with a try that was not converted. Kenya however dug their heels in and Doreen Remour, who was outstanding throughout the tournament for the Kenyans, equalised taking the game into sudden death extra time. Although exhausted both teams put up an excellent display of rugby, neither ready to give way to the other with the first half of extra time ending after 3 minutes with the teams still deadlocked at 17 – 17. In the second half, Sauda Adiru broke through a valiant Kenyan defence to score a try for the Lady Cranes and put an end to Kenya’s hopes.
The Plate Final had Zambia taking on Uganda Select. The Ugandan second side had done very well to get this far and was eager to avenge their earlier loss to Zambia in the preliminary games. However, Zambia had been improving steadily with each game and was determined to take some silverware home. They were faster and more aggressive than the Ugandans and thumped them 33 – 00 to lift the Plate trophy.
The Main Cup Final was the game all the fans had been waiting to see: the Southern African queens versus the East African queens. The two teams were evenly matched for speed but the South Africans had superior ball skills, fluid teamwork and a tighter defence pattern. The first half was a tightly contested 10 minutes with South Africa drawing first blood with a try that they were unable to convert. Uganda responded with a well worked try and converted to give themselves a slim 2 point lead at half time. However, after half time, South Africa’s well marshalled defence kept out the Ugandan speedsters and on attack they displayed slick moves that split open the Uganda defence to let them through for 2 more unconverted tries (one of them a penalty try) to win the game 15 – 07 and become the African 7’s champions. The tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award deservedly went to Charmaine Keyser from South Africa who dazzled players and spectators alike with her speed and great all round rugby skills.
All in all, it was a historic day filled with fantastic rugby and a large step forward for women’s rugby in Africa. Hopefully further editions of the CAR 7’s will include teams from Western and Northern Africa. With the 2009 IRB 7’s Rugby World Cup including a women’s competition, then this is definitely a step in the right direction.