At the sound of the name Justin Kimono, every Ugandan rugby fan relates to that 2011 Confederations of Africa Rugby Cup match against Zimbabwe at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds in Kampala.
Kimono, then a 19-year-old high school graduate, debuted for the Uganda rugby Cranes, putting in a noteworthy performance that saw him score two tries and take out two Zimbabwean players with the biggest of hits.
That moment onwards, Kimono pursued a spectacular career that saw his signature dearly hunted by a number of international professional clubs. However, the star suffered an injury that sidelined him for close to a year and a half, until Saturday 10th June 2017 when he ran out for the Cranes against the Kenya Simbas, much to the excitement of the Ugandan rugby fans. It was understandable why his return was such a highly anticipated event.
He carved a career out for himself as early as senior 2 in Namilyango College School. He was about 14 then, and is one of the youngest players to ever feature for a school’s senior side. He was known for bursting runs, crunching tackles and brutal raw power that made him hard to tackle. With his combination of pace and power, he was almost invincible. His name lives even among the present day Namilyango students given the cult hero status he cultivated while there.
He debuted for the Betway Kobs (Then UTL Kobs) just two weeks after leaving high school and he quickly showed his potential, which earned him a national team call up. He recalls this day vividly.
“I was given a trial chance seeing as I had been in good form in the league. I started the game and was supposed to come off (for Jude Keremundu) in the second half” he recalls.
He duly represented, scoring two quick first half touchdowns. What was more memorable though was that he knocked out a man almost twice his size as he headed for his second try. This performance ensured that Kim J, as he is amicably known cemented his number on the team for good, making a more than perfect replacement for Keremundu who left the country the next year.
In that same year (2011) Kimono notched the Young Achievers Award for the outstanding Sports Personality. He felt fulfilled.
“It was a good experience being in the same room with two presidents (H.E Paul Kagame and H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni). I am proud to be the only male rugby player to win the award.” he says with a smile, adding that his prize money was a big push to his business which he is doing right now.
His return also left many with the hope that he would carry on from where he had stopped in early 2016. By the time he suffered the injury, Kimono had been one of the top try scorers for the domestic league.
So when he jumped on versus Kenya in the first leg of the Elgon Cup in Kampala, the fans sat back and waited. He received the ball and treated them to one of those trademark runs of his and the nostalgia could hardly be kept at bay. He did not score a try that day; but a player of his class just needs to regain his form, and he would score a try any day.