By Kelechukwu Mbagwu, Nigeria Rugby Football Federation President (TheNRFF.com)
A happy and prosperous new year to all Rugby lovers in and out of our dear country. I wish you the very best 2019 will have to offer.
The year 2018 has been a roller coaster ride as well as our first full year in office. It has been extremely exciting and a real eye opener.
Let me start by expressing my profound gratitude to those who took out the time to hold our hands and guide us through the early stages as we sought to return to our rightful place deep in the heart of the World Rugby family. We remember those early hectic days and sleepless nights as we battled to produce a lasting constitution acceptable to World Rugby, The Nigerian Olympic committee and our stake holders. Our special thanks to the officials of Rugby Afrique, Coralie Vanden Berg and Khalid Babbou who guided us through the process as well as the immediate past N.O.C Secretary General, Tunde Popoola, the President Gumel and our industrious Minister, the honorable Dalung for their help and encouragement. It was a journey well worth taking and with a deep sense of accomplishment we saw our constitution accepted and ratified (we also had the ratification accepted by the authorities that be).
Then came the serious work and attempts to fulfill all the promises made! The new and vigorous board met nice and early to set the pace for activities in the year and the pace set was indeed frenetic.
First came the setting up of a solid structure to administer our affairs and after a few false steps (expected of us since we haven’t done this before) a good foundation was laid, headed by the General Manager, Mike Archer with the help of the administrator Barr. Mrs Ngozi Agwu-Ani and slowly but surely we got ahead of the game and produced a system that has started to work! A nine-day wonder in the history of Nigerian Rugby!
The playing side exploded into action! The Northern league was large enough to be split into two: The North Central and the North Western league, both leagues actually completing a full season and producing champions who played off for the title of Northern champions.
A historic first season for the South, South/South East League, opening the doors to the vast human resources from both regions was also worthy of note, this season also being played to its conclusion, producing a champion to engage the Lagos league champions for the honor of being crowned champions of the south.
Apart from a most successful league season, there were several other firsts, Rugby’s participation in the National Youth Sports Festival championed by the indefatigable Angulu, a schools’ representative side selected and camped for the African Youth Championship in Algeria as well as a Lagos schools tournament arranged by Seyi Opanubi and his team, an excellent team if I may say so.
The rugby “I”try and the World Rugby sponsored “Get into Rugby” programme continued to run under the capable guidance of Martin Crawford, expanding into Edo and Akwa Ibom states and the usual Beach tournaments providing fun and family entertainment for all.
The International season re-started with Rugby Afrique’s full embrace of Nigeria’s return and a commemorative match against the Super Sixteen Champions, Niger Republic in Niamey which ended in an embarrassing mauling of our Northern Neighbors to show we had adequately prepared with a full season behind us and an international quality coach in the person at Bronson Weir.
The regional sevens tournament in Cote d’ Ivoire followed with a powerful showing from the Stallions who were seconds away from winning the tournament but for a few questionable refereeing decisions ( we look forward to meeting the Ivory Coast away from their partisan officiating in the near future).
We were declared ‘’team of the tournament “despite the narrow loss in the final and were subsequently promoted to the Silver cup in our very first effort for the African group!
The Stallions haven’t been out of the news all the year! As Rugby Afrique have let us know, we stand a very good chance of playing in the Olympic qualifiers this year despite our late re-admittance and our ladies also have a chance to play in the Women’s Olympic qualifiers too. In preparation, our Lady Stallions will be competing in the Las Vegas Sevens, USA in March to adequately prepare them for the challenge ahead. The preparations continue this year with our very first female tournament, “The Golden Sevens Tournament”, which took place on Saturday the 12th of January 2019.
Also wonderful to note is the beginning of a new Ghana/Nigeria détente set up by the Presidents of both unions, a very energetic President Mensah of Ghana reached out nice and early and talks of a Nigeria/Ghana rugby festival is in the offing for 2019!
Another first for the South South/ South East is the first male and female tournament of the year holding at the Umuahia Township Stadium in Abia State called the ‘’SWAY SEVENS’’
Our verification exercise showed a total of 26 Rugby clubs meeting all criteria and 23 of them participating in the various leagues, 8 states participated in the youth sports festival, 2 states had school championships, 4 women’s rugby clubs were active and participated in the first women’s tournament, our Referee’s Society did a yeoman’s job with little or no outside help, and we haven’t been far from the news all year from constant reports of our activities in Guardian to articles in Citi People and Bella Naija!
It is with this in mind that I cautiously pronounce this the most successful season ever experienced in the history of rugby in the country! With over 106 recorded official matches, full participation in international tournaments, the re-introduction of women’s rugby, the setting up of a fully functional rugby house, our participation in domestic and national festivals and even an O.B.E! I would be very interested to hear from former Presidents who have had equally successful tenures whether there are any records that can beat the 2018 season.
We can round up the 2018 report by congratulating Barewa Rugby club of Kano for emerging National Champions again by beating Cowrie Rugby club in the President’s cup.
We also congratulate Azeez Ladipo, captain of the Black Stallions for being selected “Player of the season” and Martin Crawford, founder of Barewa Rugby club and Director of Elite Rugby for the NRFF for the O.B.E which was conferred on him by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second.
We look towards 2019 with hope and enthusiasm as we participate in the silver cup for the first time ( we actually hope to host it, at least we have applied), the Las Vegas Sevens for our ladies, all the Olympic qualifiers and World Rugby tournaments as well as a cracking domestic season building on the successes of the previous season.
If you think 2018 was successful, may I be so bold as to state “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
God bless you as you join us in promoting the game we love.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF).
Africa Silver Cup 2019