Hero photograph
Photo by Mr Mark Ealey

Emilly Lekuru from Uganda joins the IRP

Mark Ealey —

Connection with Uganda Rugby continues

The St Bede’s College connection with Ugandan rugby goes back a decade to 2009 when prop Mark Ocwich joined the 7th IRP intake. Mark played right through to the New Zealand Secondary Schools final in what was arguably our most successful 1st XV ever. After returning to Uganda Mark has coached in the northern district of Lira, and through him we have stayed connected to Ugandan rugby. That connection developed further last year when Peter Lang, a coach visiting the CRFU International High Performance Unit, introduced the College to Helen Koyokoyo Buteme, the coach of the Ugandan National Women’s 7s team, the “Lady Cranes”. Before long, the idea of looking far and wide for support in order to get a Ugandan female player into the International Rugby Programme (IRP) came together.

This concept was driven by two key factors. First, that the player would be able to transfer her newfound rugby knowledge and coaching ideas to women’s rugby back in her home country to the benefit of rugby there. Helen Koyokoyo Buteme, Lady Cranes coach explains, “Emilly's 3 month placement in Christchurch is huge not just for her but for Ugandan rugby as well. On her return, there is so much that she will pass on to others that will improve women's rugby in Uganda long term and short term I am sure that we will see the impact during the Olympic qualifier in Tunisia in October.”

Second, that her rugby adventure would serve to inspire other girls back home to aim high. Martha Nakale, patron of the Jinja Spire Lions (age-grade team), comments, “Girls in my community look at each other for inspiration, so when they see that one of their own, someone normal and ordinary, has been able to do something extraordinary they believe that they too can achieve at a level beyond their humble backgrounds. Even if they never travel to New Zealand, they now have someone from their same background who did, and Emilly can mentor and guide them on their respective rugby journeys.” Similarly, Dr. Irene Bunihizi Namapii, Rugby Tackling Life (RTL) Director says, “Rugby Tackling Life will be able to use Emilly's story to show the girls that we interact with during our programmes that if they have something that they are passionate about and really good at the possibilities are unlimited and that coming from a poor background should not stop anyone trying to achieve their dreams. Additionally, Emilly's trip to New Zealand can be used to motivate girls to stay in school as well as to keep playing rugby. RTL will also make it one of our strategic imperatives to source funding for girls or women who excel beyond our current standards in Uganda to be placed in high performance programmes in other countries around the world.”

In her first week in Christchurch Emilly has been busy. She has attended IRP classes, skill sessions, weight-training sessions as well as experiencing some very frosty mornings! She watched the St Bede’s College 1st XV beat last year’s National Champions St. Peter’s (Auckland) and played for Marist Albion Women’s team on Saturday, scoring two tries.

Strahan McIntosh (Marist Albion Rugby Development Officer), commented on her debut: “Emilly Lekuru has fit into the Marist Albion Women’s rugby team really well. Starting on the left wing Emilly was sound in her tackling and scooped up a loose ball from a kick-off for her first try. She managed to beat three defenders on the way and showed her speed. For her second try she got on the outside of her opposite and sprinted down the sideline and under the posts! She is quickly becoming a team favourite. The girls loved seeing her at the clubrooms after the match and look forward to playing with her again next week!”

Emilly herself comments: “My homestay family are so loving and caring in every way. I’m very happy to be staying in their home. I made my club debut yesterday. The girls in the team are very welcoming and friendly. The IRP is so good. Everyone is concerned about me fitting in and I am learning lots of things that l didn't know. I think I’ve made a good start to my stay.”

IRP Director Mark Ealey states, “Having Emilly join the IRP is good for all of us. Welcoming a young player from such a different environment on the other side of the world gives us a chance to celebrate diversity and to display the generous, welcoming spirit that New Zealander rugby people possess. Emilly being Uganda’s Woman’s Player of the Year, in other words being very good at our national sport, immediately gives her a point of connection with NZers. It’s great to see her, and of course all of our other IRP players, enjoying being with us at St. Bede’s College on their rugby adventure. I really hope that this connection with Ugandan rugby continues, particularly with rugby-related programmes there that are designed to achieve social transformation.”

Note: Not being able to directly enrol girls, St Bede’s accepts female players into the IRP thanks to the kind cooperation of its sister school Marian College.

Article about 2009 1st XV player Mark Ocwich (7th IRP intake) coaching in Uganda: