Uganda and Zimbabwe have become the latest nations to qualify for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 after reaching the Rugby Africa Sevens Championship final in Kampala on Saturday.
The Rugby Cranes Sevens were crowned African champions for the second year in a row, albeit only after a last-gasp try from Adrian Kasito saw them come from behind to triumph 10-7 to the delight of the home fans at Legends Sports Ground.
With Uganda celebrating its 55th year of independence on Monday, the title defence also came with another prize as they will again take their place at the opening two rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 in Dubai and Cape Town in December alongside the 15 core teams.
Uganda and Zimbabwe have also confirmed their place in the World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 qualifier in Hong Kong.
It will be the first Rugby World Cup Sevens appearance for Uganda and a fifth for Zimbabwe, who appeared at the 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013 tournaments.
Uganda and Zimbabwe take the number of African men’s teams at RWC Sevens 2018 in San Francisco to four with South Africa and Kenya having qualified directly as quarter-finalists from the 2013 edition in Moscow.
In the final, Zimbabwe enjoyed the best of the first half but were fortunate that Shingai Hlanguyo was able to catch a flying Lawrence Ssebuliba to deny Uganda the opening try.
That tackle proved key as within a minute the Cheetahs had been awarded a penalty try and Uganda reduced to six men with Pius Okena yellow carded for a high tackle.
It was the first time Uganda had been behind in the tournament and Zimbabwe continued to pile the pressure on their hosts, being denied a second try when they knocked on just before the line.
QUALIFICATION IS MASSIVE
Zimbabwe’s physicality was something Uganda hadn’t faced but they managed to find a way through when James Odongo side-stepped his man in his 22 and raced away to cut the deficit to 7-5.
Time appeared to be running out for Uganda to score the winning try until Kasito found a way through to spark the celebrations.
“Having retained this trophy here at home means a lot to us and thanks to the fans for supporting us,” said Uganda captain Eric Kasiita. “We had to put on our A game to beat Zimbabwe and it means a lot to us as we can now showcase our talent out in the world because we have qualified for the World Cup.”
Zimbabwe captain Hilton Mudariki added: “They did well to come back and congratulations to Uganda. My boys battled to the end and to go down that way is really tough.
“To qualify for the World Cup is massive, it means everything to us.”
Uganda had been the stand-out team on day one at the Legends Sports Ground and that continued as they swept aside Botswana 33-0 and then Zambia 38-12 to reach the final and confirm their historic qualification, Ssebuliba scoring a hat-trick in the semi-final.
Madagascar had topped their pool, like Uganda, on day one, but they paid the price of an early yellow card with Zimbabwe scoring twice as their tactic of slowing down their quicker opponents paid dividends. Madagascar, though, hit back with two tries in a minute on the stroke of half-time to trail 14-10, but Biselele Tshamala’s try gave Zimbabwe some breathing space to see out the 21-10 victory.
Their RWC Sevens dream may have ended but Madagascar bounced back to claim the bronze medal after beating Zambia 26-7.
Rugby Africa Sevens final rankings