There was no better way to draw the curtains on the 2017 Schools’ Rugby group stages than with a fine serving of the tournament’s oldest and sourest rivalry-Namilyango College against St Mary’s College Kisubi. It is the fixture where players defend the pride of their respective schools with their lives, literally. This year’s second leg fixture had an extra condiment to it; whoever lost the game would fail to make it to the semis, regardless of the fact that NGO was first in the group and SMACK second. Rugby and heart were put to test, and spoils were shared at 13-all, a draw that could have maintained the Group A status quo had it not been for a Kololo SS win against Light Academy, resulting into an end to SMACK’s defiant run in the campaign.
The U19 fixture was set up to be every second interesting, given the results of the buildup games. SMACK had edged a stubborn NGO side 05-03 in the U15 game, while the Fumblers had run a 4 try riot over the weevils in the U17 game, to wrap it up at 00-26. With a game secured for either school, the U19 fixture came as a do or die, with either set of players aware of the repercussions of a possible loss.
The Ngonians ran on first, an event that was followed by the singing of their anthem to the handful of supporters that had followed in tow. Then the home side came down from the traditional staircase, and the reception from the fans almost broke the ground. Matovu Kenneth then led the SMACK anthem-And rugby begun.
Kick after kick was taken, with flyhalves Odoi Arnold (SMACK) and Kisitu Hillary (NGO) booting as carefully as lethally. It was Namilyango who drew first blood, with Kisitu scoring a drop goal 13 minutes into play. SMACK captain Kevin Balagadde marshalled his forces into a number of mauls, one of which caught the Ngonians on the back foot, resulting into a penalty that was well scored by wing Ochaka Francis to draw the game.
Pacy lock Elipili Emmanuel then showed his master class, picking up a rolling ball at the half way line and running past a couple of defenders, prior to snapping out of a tackle from fullback Nabongho Junior to seal a diving try right next to the poles. Kisitu booted the extras right, and NGO took the lead to 03:10. The action was just starting though.
The SMACK front row, arguably the most remarkable this season kept poking at the Ngonians, until scrumhalf and man of the match Michael Matovu found the gap. He released an eagerly waiting Balagadde, who was unstoppable now, having been held up a couple of times. He scored at the very edge, a conversion that seemed too hard for Ochaka. The game then went into half time, with Namilyango boasting of a slim 2-point lead over the hosts.
The second half presented a hustle and tussle for the ball, and the scores remained unchanged well into the 60th minute. It was the prowess of the SMACK scrum that did the magic, pulling off a running maul for Alendro Godwill to score their second try. Ochaka yet again missed the conversion, and the score was 13:10, in favour of the hosts, with the clock impatiently running down.
However, the Ngonians’ resilience was yet to be broken. Kisitu’s kick at the restart saw a powerful chase for Elipili, who ripped the ball right out of Odoi’s hands. The tackler having failed to release saw the Anchors earn a penalty at the haunches of the pitch, and impossible as it seemed, Kisitu opted to kick for goal. He was short by a few metres, but as fate would have it, the advancing SMACK defence knocked on the ball. A scrum awarded to NGO in the Eagles’ five then saw some illegal scrimmaging from the later, and Kisitu was glad-he was closer this time. He effortlessly put the ball in, to level the game yet again.
SMACK’s fight back was fruitless, as the Ngonians held on to see through the draw to maintain the top spot in the group, much to the disappointment of a determined SMACK side.