Sport | Rugby

Bayigga has one eye on the ball

Justine Bayigga will complete a remarkable sporting journey from the Beijing Olympics to the first ever Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens when Uganda's Lady Cranes take on New Zealand in pool play on Friday.

  • By Steve Hill, Correspondent
  • Published: 23:06 March 3, 2009
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Supplied Picture
  • Justine Bayigga will complete a remarkable sporting journey from the Beijing Olympics to the first ever Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens when Uganda's Lady Cranes take on New Zealand in pool play on Friday.

Dubai: Justine Bayigga will complete a remarkable sporting journey from the Beijing Olympics to the first ever Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens when Uganda's Lady Cranes take on New Zealand in pool play on Friday.

The 30-year-old had not even touched a rugby ball until just over four months ago. But one of Uganda's highest profile athletes willingly answered a call to provide her country with some pace after the squad qualified for Dubai, and she has since undergone a rugby education as swift as she covers a 100 metres sprint.

She said: "I haven't stopped since October. I was failing at rugby at first but now I'm getting used to it ... it's fun!

"As an athlete I am used to working as an individual, now I am enjoying being part of a team."

Bayigga represented Uganda at Beijing in the 400 metres only to suffer a thigh muscle injury in a qualification round.

She remains the national 400 metre (52.39 seconds) and 200 metre (23.46) record holder, and has her sights set on completing a full set with the 100 metre mark after the World Cup.

In the meantime, though, she is concentrating only on honing new and unfamiliar skills such as catching, passing, tackling ... and recovering from being tackled.

To date she has appeared in only one tournament, the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens late last year.

Head coach David Mutaka said: "When Justine catches the ball, she is lethal ... she has a radar-like lock on the try line.

"The team has been very supportive of her and given her a lot of guidance. She's very tough. We played a warm-up game at home against our under-18 boys and she got really smashed in one tackle and I must admit that I was a bit worried when she went down but she quickly got up and was back in the game."

Bayigga hopes to pass on her experience of major events to the rest of her team.

She said: "I've told the team that when we are on the pitch, we must ignore the crowd and play like we did at home to qualify.

"Everyone has worked very hard to get here, now we need results to show the people at home what we can do."

Uganda's qualification is even more remarkable as Mutaka estimates that there are only 200 women rugby players in Uganda. "People still think it is only a man's game," he said. "But we hope that our performances will help promote rugby at home.

"Our target is to reach the quarter-finals which would be no mean feat and put ourselves in a good position to be a part of a women's world series which I believe will happen sooner rather than later."

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