In July next year, Uganda She Cranes will compete at their second Netball World Cup having made their maiden appearance in Sydney, Australia in 2015.
A few things will be new for the She Cranes at the global showpiece but the floor of the Echo Arena in Liverpool will be familiar.
The African champions have already played a game at the 2019 World Cup venue. The game was part of the recently concluded three-match Vitality International Series with England Roses.
She Cranes lost the series 3-0 but there were positives to note about the game played at the Echo Arena. The team was very solid, competitive and durable, especially in the second half. While Roses dominated the game in the first half in what was a passive display from the She Cranes, the visitors improved tenfold and were immense in the second before switching off after leveling the game at 43.
Asked whether he prioritized winning the subsequent games of the series after a closely contested opener that ended in defeat, She Cranes head coach Vincent Kiwanuka was succinct.
“They (England) invited us with a purpose and it was to figure out our team. We had lost to them by six goals (at Commonwealth Games) and netball in Uganda has grown at a high rate.
“As a coach, I was interested in the first game which we lost by four goals. My intention was to figure out whether England is beatable and once I did that, I let the girls do their own thing.
“In the other two games we did not go all out but we tried to switch a few things here and there as we had achieved our objectives,” Kiwanuka told Kawowo Sports.
It is why Kiwanuka had no problem declaring this trip successful despite the team’s 3-0 loss.
“We are the real competition for England in the (World Cup) group.
“We really have a good chance (at the World Cup) as Uganda. I think having played the best team in our group several times, we have figured out a few things that will help us at the World Cup,” he declared.
However, not everything about series was positive. Muhayimina Namuwaya who has been fielded more often than not as a goalkeeper was played at wing defense and she struggled to cope with Natalie Haythornthwaite while Jade Clarke and Serena Guthrie troubled Ruth Meeme and Halima Nakachwa throughout the series as Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth were aggressive,giving Peace Proscovia and Rachael Nanyonga no room to breathe.
Despite the Ugandan league having broken off just under two weeks to the series, the She Cranes were out paced as the Roses played a high-intensity game.
“It was two ways,” Kiwanuka says. “We trained for a few days – nine days, we had no camp, every players turned up for training from home and so you can’t have that (required) fitness.
“Secondly, we did not play our best but in all honesty they were faster than us. They have a lot of speed, so we are going to train for the speed.
“We have to train our players to play multiple positions, so we try to have these players in multiple positions to increase competition. These were friendlies and we needed to figure these things out with playing Muhayi at WD, Ajio at GK and Stella (Nanfuka) at GD,” he reasons.
The She Cranes squad that played the series had three new players that were not part of the World Cup qualifying campaign in Zambia and had not played for the national side. These were NIC’s Florence Adunia and KCCA duo, Fauzia Nakibuule and Shaffie Nalwanja.
U21 graduate Joan Nampungu who was part of the team during the Commonwealth Games earlier this year was joined 2018 World University Netball Championship winning GS Mary Nuba and the two are looked at as the future of the team.
“These are young players and we expect a lot from them. They are promising and given proper training, they will be extremely important for the national side.
“Nuba is going back to England to meet up with her new team (Loughborough Lightning) and that has given us more hope as she will undergo year-long training unlike ours here that is seasonal. We are sure she will be much more improved by the time we summon her for the World Cup.”
After playing England – who are their major opponents in world cup group, it’s difficult not believe the She Cranes benefited from the series.
The transformation of the team since playing against the netball powerhouses on the planet at the 2015 world cup has been visible that the game is moving growing upwards.
It can be passed as wishful thinking but She Cranes could break into the top four sides at the Echo Arena next year as it will require them to beat England, given Scotland and Samoa are the other first phase opponents.