An entire Chiradzulu District village football team has converted into a rugby club as the sport make in-roads, especially in the Southern Region, courtesy of the Rugby Football Union of Malawi (Rfum).
In Chiradzulu, the conversion of a football team started when Luchenza rugby player Dick Maswa relocated to Nkalo a few years ago. He encouraged his peers to learn rugby and they were impressed that they had opportunities to play in Blantyre City.
“I found a football team but obviously there were few organised competitions, so we switched to rugby. We still play football, but it is in rugby that we are making strides. There are opportunities for us to play away games,” Maswa explained on the sidelines of a Seven-A-Side Tournament held at Saint Andrew’s International High School in Blantyre on Saturday afternoon.
Ian Stars beat established opponents such as Saint Andrew’s B, Africa Sottasopra and Ndirande Impala during the day-long tournament which newly-formed Malawi Under-20 team dominated and eventually won. Rugby is also growing in Salima, Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Karonga, Zomba and Thyolo.
Luchenza also has a strong 22-member rugby side. The team’s forward Ephraim Makolo has contributed players Hexter Starichi, Joseph Manyozo and Matthews Rambiki to the Under-20 team, the Cubs.
“We all used to play football but there is no future. Football has been played for ages in Malawi but with what results? What have we as a country, achieved. The future of footballers is always bleak. With rugby, every passing year the opportunities to play abroad look promising,” Makolo said as his team mates gave subtle nods.
Henry Henderson Institute (HHI) Primary School has two rugby teams which have added to the list of sports teams at the school. But sports master Justin Masaka admitted that rugby is growing faster.
While elite football competitions are hit by administrative and financial challenges with competitive action restricted to cities, rugby is luring players from rural areas by giving them access to better facilities and tournaments in towns.
Not that all is plain sailing for the new rugby converts. Most players have no boots and uniforms. And rugby demands proper tackling technique lest one get injured, according to Yusuf Nyambi and Pettry Mathemba of Impala.
“Today, I played on borrowed boots and uniforms from Saint Andrew’s; but at least we can borrow. I played football, handball, basketball and volleyball before settling for rugby. It makes you think. You need clever decision-making on where to pass, keep the ball or run,” said Mathemba, 22, from Ndirande.
Rfum coach and official Russell Suter confirmed that rugby is growing in the South, adding that Luchenza alone has some 200 players. Other teams in the region include Ndirande Impala, HH A and B and Africa Sottasopra. The union has since formed the national Under-20 side.
The sight of young players such as barefoot 11-year-old HHI pupil Felix White tussling for the rugby ball on the Saint Andrew’s pitch rendered false conventional wisdom that rugby is for stout and muscular people.
“Most local players are not as big but they are fast and have a place in rugby especially in seven-aside game which is very fast. The good thing about rugby is that it is about team work. The passing of most players is good but there are challenges on tackling. Getting them understand that if they do it properly they will not get hurt is a challenge,” Suter noted.
Rfum has several local and international partners that are providing support. There are several companies and schools in the United Kingdom that provide the local association with equipment. This is not the case in football.
Rugby is a free-flowing game that features a combination of strength, speed and strategy to move a ball into an opponents’ territory.
Rugby football is a style of football that refers to two current sports bodies—rugby league and rugby union.
Before the split into the league and union codes, the term applied to the style of football believed to have been developed at England’s Rugby School to differentiate it from other styles of football.
Although these two distinctive forms of rugby share the same general rules and objective, namely getting the ball over the line to score a try, the specific rules for the two forms are different.