INTERVIEW: Rugby Cranes captain Michael Wokorach
Captain Michael Wokorach
Uganda Rugby 7s national team recently won the 2022 Africa Rugby 7s. Micheal Wokorach the team captain spoke to Rab sports about the tournament, his achievements, best moments and hardships in the game of rugby.
Who’s Micheal Wokorach?
I am called Michael Wokorach. I was born in Kampala Mulago hospital, I have lived in Kampala all my life but am a man who comes from Pakwach district and also some little of Gulu, so I am Nilotic purely from the Luo land.
Take us through your educational background.
I studied in a school called Kiswa in Bugolobi Kampala for my primary and I resided in Bugolobi for about 20 years.
I joined Kibibi, a Muslim school in Butambala, Mpigi district for my high school. I left the school after one year because my parents thought it was far and it was a Muslim school yet am a Christian and I joined Merry land for my senior two till I finished my O level.
I did join St Lawrence Cream Land campus for my A level. After high school, I was supposed to join Makerere University but I didn’t get the course I wanted so I had to go to Nkumba University where I did my procurement and logistics and graduated in 2012.
When did you realize that you had a love for rugby, what was your starting point?
I was like 12 years because I was in P.7. I used to stay with my aunt in Nakawa flats and my cousins used to play rugby and the pitch was just near it was just a matter of crossing the road so one time I was like let me go watch rugby and I picked interest from there though I was a ball boy at that time.
I first kicked my rugby ball in 2002. And the help of my homeboys at that time the likes of Kiiza Benon, Opa cheered me up. We did introduce rugby at Merry Land when I was a student and it grew big.
And at St Lawrence, my rugby just advanced to another level and I loved the game more. St Lawrence used to play in school competitions and I was captain of the team. I did play for the Buffalos club for a short time when I was still a student at St Lawrence and when I got done with high school, I immediately joined Heathens and where I have played for now 14 years.
How do you describe your rugby journey?
I would describe it as an awesome one, I have achieved a lot personally not only with the country but also with my club Heathens.
I can say have put myself in the topmost where I loved to play and am glad, I have moved without getting threatening injuries and am still trying as much as I can to continue playing not until my legs can’t handle it.
Which teams have you played for?
I played for Buffalos for a short time and now I play for Heathens. I have never played abroad, however, I did try going for training there but things didn’t work out so I am Ugandan based.
Are you optimistic Heathens will be winning this year’s trophy?
Everyone can see this because Heathens has put up a good performance all I can say is it’s a done deal.
Where do you see Ugandan rugby in the coming 5 years?
I think Ugandan rugby has grown from the achievements, we have had, and the Africa Rugby 7s trophy we won on the 24th of April 2022 at Kyadondo ground, Kampala.
It made us African Champions for the third time. Sponsorships are coming in and the budget for rugby Uganda has been increased from Shs.300Million to Shs.1 billion and with this, in the next five years, Rugby will blow up.
Who was your favourite player that attracted you to play the game of rugby when you were still young?
In my case, I was just dragged to play the game, I didn’t know anything about rugby but I had to learn from my friends Benon and Opa who are still playing the game. They helped me so much that I loved the game and I started to like players; like Mathias Ochwo and the late Sogyi.
Why were they your favourite players?
Benon was a good full back player with great skills and talent. Mathias who was once captain of the national 15s team was also a good player and he did motivate me a lot because every game to him was like a final either on the national team or heathens.
Can you share with us a memory of them playing a particular match?
I remember while in Nairobi, Mathias played extremely well and he was MVP and the late Sogyi would also put in efforts to make sure Uganda wins.
Which player have you admired most during your career?
My brother, Phillip Wokorach because he does exceptional things on and off the pitch at times I even wish I could rewind years so that I can try out some of the things he does, I mean the way he handles his rugby it’s so professional and I feel happy for him and he has done a lot for Uganda.
What do you and Phillip Wokorach share in common because every time we talk about rugby, the two of you pop up?
First of all, Phillip is not my blood brother but what we have in common is that we love the game of rugby and we give in a lot of dedication and we believe in God so much because without Him we wouldn’t do what we are doing now and to make sure the country shines.
Uganda just hosted the Africa Rugby 7s and you happen to be team captain, how do you feel being captain?
It’s an honour and to me, I feel it’s the best team have played with because these guys are so talented and for the 13 years have played for Uganda, this is the best team have played with so much talent not so much experienced but they have much love for the game and on the team, I am the oldest so they see me as their father.
I always advise guys whenever they seek help because this is the future for Ugandan rugby and I pray to God, big doors open for them so they can play some professional rugby in Europe.
Congratulations on winning the trophy, how easy was it because you guys made it look easy?
Everyone thought it was easy, but the hard work we put in before the tournament it’s the one that made it easy for us but I can tell you it was a hard tournament because we trained for about 3 months to better ourselves for the tournament and I can say the hard work took us where we were supposed to be and by the time of playing games, everyone knew what to do and the fans outside saw that we made it look easy but a lot was being done behind the scenes.
You guys were in training for 3 months and Phillip came a week before the tournament, how did he get up in the set-up that fast?
Like I told you, Phillip is an exceptional talent, versatile player he is so by all means he had to be on the team. We thank God for giving us Phillip he’s just a blessing. And by the time he came here he was very fit because he was playing in their league so he was good to go.
Why do you guys call Kenyans the noisy neighbour?
Fans are always noisy, the way we call Kenyans noisy neighbours it’s the same thing to them at their home and it’s worse because they even abuse us by calling us banana boiled idiots simply because we eat smashed matooke.
Who was the toughest opponent in the tournament?
We all came to this tournament knowing the strongest opponents that are Kenya and Zimbabwe remember Kenya is the former champions of Africa rugby 7s, they won in 2019 in Cape Town after beating us.
To everyone that watched the games, our semi-final game against Kenya was the hardest but we put in a lot of energy to win the game because we knew once we get passed Kenya, Zimbabwe would easily be sorted we knew.
How was the mood in camp like the mere fact you were playing at home with such a huge crowd?
I don’t know how I can thank the fans but the fans played a huge role in driving us forward, have never seen Kyadondo in the 14 years I have played having the number of fans that came to support us during the tournament.
Just know it was a good mood in the camp and Phillip came in with new motivational words from France and the boys were geared up to bring it home.
From your observation as captain, which player do you think did put up an outstanding performance and what made him different?
Every player did their role however Aaron Ofoyrwoth had a storm of a tournament. That boy has been criticized so many times that he cost Uganda with many yellow cards and so on.
For Phillip Wokorach of course we expect him to do that and the rest of the guys were also good but my MVP of the tournament was Aaron.
Why do you think the Uganda rugby 7s national team achieved things it did successfully?
I think the way the team was managed, first of all from choosing the right technical team, the union coming up to support us where we needed money, allowances being paid in time and, those were driving forces for us to win the tournament.
What was your highlight in the competition?
My highlight was when Phillip broke and there is a young player, called Arinaitwe, Phillip broke the line and he was going to score but he called this boy he gave him the ball to score. These are moments that such young boys need.
And then what was your highlight for someone?
The big tackles Adrian Kasito put in, there is a big Kenyan player called Buffa, he’s feared in the World Series because he’s a beast they call him a moving buffalo but am glad some small players put up a collective effort to stop him and one of them being Adrian, that was a star moment for me.
For how long have you played on the national team?
I have played for 13 years on the national team and have played with three different generations and this is my 3rd because I am much older than the boys but then it’s good that am still putting up my hand to give services to the country and I can only go till my legs allow. Have represented my country with my biggest heart ever.
The team qualified for both World Cup and Common Wealth Games. How many World Cups have you played at?
This is the second World Cup we are going for in Cape Town, the first one was in 2018 after qualifying in 2017 still in Kampala winning against Zimbabwe still. We now want to get used to and start qualifying for World Cup every time.
What’s that unique thing Ugandans should expect that the team hasn’t been putting up at the World Cup?
The Ugandans have seen what boys are capable of, they expect a lot from us and we shall not disappoint them. There is a lot for us to do as we head for World Cup and I pray everyone stays in the finest form but before World Cup, we have the commonwealth games at the end of July.
What’s your biggest achievement in the game of rugby?
Playing at the World Cup and my other achievement was captaining the whole Uganda contingent during the commonwealth games in Australia, I was the overall captain of team Uganda.
Many people out there think rugby is a dangerous game, have you ever suffered an injury that ruled you out of the game?
In 2016, I fractured my jaw and it was a hard moment for me because had to go for surgery, they had to wire my jaws together with metals because that’s the only way the fracture would heal and I didn’t eat solid food for about six weeks. I was on a liquid diet and I lost about 10kgs during that period and that was the time I thought I should retire from the game. But I talked to a few people and advised me to keep playing the game since I was a young boy then.
Do you regret playing rugby over another game?
Never because it has opened so many doors for me and it has made me a more modified person. I can tell you it’s the best game I have ever chosen.
If you were the Uganda rugby union president, what adjustments would you want to do to promote the game of rugby in Uganda?
I would want rugby to become professional, in the way that they get stakeholders who can invest in the game because rugby is a sport that it’s bringing more trophies and victory to Uganda and it’s being known on the world map.
Which other game would you be playing if it wasn’t for rugby?
I did try out both football and volleyball but things didn’t work out I think I fell so much in love with basketball. I grew up in Bugolobi and it’s a basketball area.
In your last words, what advice would you give to young kids who are just starting to play the game of rugby and look up to you?
To all the young kids who are trying to engage in this beautiful game, please follow your dream, follow what you want and follow what your heart says.
I know there will be so many obstacles stopping you from playing the game but just keep pushing. Train hard, play the game, be determined and never give up but all in all, put God first because it’s God who gives us the strength to play this sport and protects us from the bad injuries and you will achieve what you want.
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