As his big hits on the field, so has been his steps in his rugby career. From a frail young lad hustling his way up the rugby scene back in 2010 to currently trading his skills at one of Kenya’s rugby exciting sides Homeboyz Rugby, Ugandan international Emong Eliphaz has weathered an all sorts of storms in his rugby journey.
His rugby journey, while narrating to the Scrummage, began just like any other: at King’s College High school in Budo, a town located in Central Uganda. He vividly recalls the decision that mounted and prompted him to join the rugby fraternity while at King’s College back in 2010, then, a form two student, after back to back try out failures in both soccer and cricket school teams.
“I was in form 2 when I shifted to rugby, ditching soccer and cricket as I had always yearned for a more physical game; a game where I can express my energy and strength. Rugby was the most popular event in our school at the time and that motivated me,” he says.
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The decision, however, was not warmly welcomed by his parents. Friction ensued between him and his parents, particularly his father. His mother, however, did not treat the decision with the same cold shoulder as his father.
“My father scolded the decision to join the school rugby team to the rooftops. I always received a good beating from him when I returned home injured. It was after being stroked that I would be taken to hospital. My mother was the go-to person. She was supportive. They later came to terms with the decision and have both been supportive since then,” he says.
It was at King’s College where Emong started polishing his rugby career at a young age. He gaudily recounts how during the holidays, he would train with a local club, which he says took his game a notch higher.
“I bettered my experience with these holiday practices a lot. I was a step ahead of my fellow teammates,” he says.
Later in 2015, Emong joined London College of St Lawrence for his form 5 and 6 education where his star started shining brighter.
While at London College, Emong continued putting exemplary performances that in 2016, during his last year of study, Makerere-based side MRI Rams Rugby, then just from the Ugandan Championship league, acquired his services. It was at MRI Rams that Emong received his first international call up.
“At Rams, I always pushed myself to the limits. And although we always lost playing against stronger teams, I would always hear fans congratulating me for my performance. I later received a call up to train with the national side by then-head coach Rober Sseguya,” He says.
When he first set foot in Kenya for the first time in 2017 at Kakamega while on a friendly mission with the national team side, little did he know that he would soon be calling the place home, come the following season.
“I first crossed borders with the national team side for a friendly match against Kabras Rugby. It was after the game that Kabras approached me, and being a big club, I had no second thoughts on joining them. That’s how I ended up in Kenya,” he says.
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At Kabras, then under Anthony Ogot, the towering back-rower further established his name, before switching to Homeboyz Rugby Club, in 2019.
He has since repaid the faith shown by Homeboyz head coach Jonathan Hector, by a producing a series of top captivating performances that earned the side a third-place finish in last season’s cancelled Kenya Cup league. He describes his new side “family” and hopes to achieve more.
“My first season with Homeboyz has been great. I have adjusted well in Nairobi. The unity we possess here can only be described to that of a family. We have an experienced coach whom to me, is the best coach I have worked under,” he explains.
On his toughest opponents, Emong, quickly points out to the Kenya Simbas backrowers duo of, Joshua Chisanga, now a teammate, and KCB’s Andrew Amonde.
“I can breathe now that I play together with (Joshua) Chisanga. He was my toughest opponent. Mzito (Andrew) Amonde remains my only trouble now. He always stretches me out,” he laughs out.
Emong, now in his third-year stay in Kenya, points out that there is a noticeable difference between Kenyan and Ugandan rugby, both technically and financially.
“The rugby culture between the two countries differ. Most Kenyan clubs, especially in Kenya Cup, can cater for its players. This helps in individual growth. The technicality in Kenya is also a bit advanced hence why they are better,” he points out.
With many idols for grabs, Emong likens his game and looks up to New Zealand and Hurricanes forward Ardie Savea. He describes the Canes forward rugby style as “perfect” and lauds his qualities on and off the field.
“I’ve always loved watching Ardie Savea play. He is always in time and place when needed. Whether it is making crunch tackles, ball carrying or even scoring. I always try to imitate his game,” he says.
He stresses his advice to upcoming rugby talents, to always believe in the tedious and hilly process.
“It is important for a young upcoming player to always believe in themselves. They should also set their mind to what they want to make it a reality. They should lastly work hard,“ he says.
Questioned as to whether the Deejayz had a short at this season’s title, Emong confidently agreed citing their performances against fellow playoffs opponents as evidence.
“We had a short this season. It was going all good for us since all attention was on Kabras and KCB. Also, our performance in the regular season speaks for itself,” he said.
Name: Emong Eliphaz
Club: Homeboyz Rugby Club
Achievements and Honours: 2016 Uganda Cup Shield Winner, 2018/19 Mwamba Cup winner, 2018 Kenya Cup runners up, 2015 Captain Uganda U19