Local coach gives guiding hand to Ugandan rugby

John Duncan (back left) with the Ugandan rugby team
John Duncan (back left) with the Ugandan rugby team



KOMANI resident John Duncan is making great strides in the rugby fraternity, having recently coached the Ugandan team to promotion to the Africa Cup 1A championship.

The team ended third on the continent.

With his wealth of experience in coaching, he dreams of taking the team to even greater heights.

“I started coaching rugby in Port Elizabeth and it was at Westering Primary School that I started to take it seriously. It opened up a door for me to get a teaching and coaching job at Queen’s College Junior and during my first year at Queen’s, I coached the under-12A team. We were unbeaten. After that, I was made the U13A coach for six years. During that time, I also coached the Border U13 team four times.”

Duncan left Komani in 2008 to teach at the Durban Preparatory High School where he coached current Sharks and junior Springbok players Daniel and Jean Luc du Preez, ending his first year unbeaten.

After two years, he returned to Komani to take over as the Queen’s College first-team coach.

“In 2010, I returned to Queen’s, coaching with Murray Basset till 2012. I was lucky enough to work with talented players who are now playing professional rugby. I left Queen’s at the end of 2012 and returned in 2014 as head of rugby.”

He took over as head coach of Uganda last year and believes the sport is growing in the landlocked country.

“We won the Africa Cup 1B and this year were promoted to Africa 1A where we finished third.

“The players are not professional, so training happens in the evenings. Most of them work and attend practice afterwards. The sport is one of the fastest growing in Uganda. They have the ‘Get into Rugby’ programme as well as the ‘Tag Rugby Trust’.”

“The interesting thing about the rugby played in primary schools is that it is non-contact until high school, so the players are elusive and have great footwork. My last experience was of a team filled with a lot of experienced players and this year has been a rebuilding phase as many of the players were young. The team had an average age of 23.

“This year was the first time the players could train under lights as the main rugby ground had no lights and sometimes we trained in the dark.”

The Ugandans have been playing rugby since 1950 and Duncan is hopeful they can make it to the World Cup.

“The aim at the moment is to qualify for the Rugby World Cup in Japan. We need to win the Africa Cup 1A tournament in 2018. This year our goal was to remain in 1A and next year it is to finish in the top two teams in Africa.

“My colleagues from Uganda are fantastic people and my assistants have been a great help to me.

“The players this year are an enthusiastic group who are extremely humble and willing to learn. The players are not as big as South Africans but have serious speed and agility. We have a game plan which suits our strengths.”

He said his family has been a pillar of strength during his coaching career.

“My family is awesome and has allowed me to pursue my dreams. My children have been supportive as at times I’m away during the holidays. Last year I spent four weeks in Uganda and this year I spent six weeks away from home. At times you do battle to get the balance right, but fortunately I have an understanding family.”

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