Madibaz rugby coach David Manuel is placing a lot of emphasis on the type of legacy they want to leave behind after this year’s FNB Varsity Shield competition.
The Nelson Mandela University squad, who began a three-week training camp on January 8, open their campaign with an away game against Cape Peninsula University of Technology on February 23.
The team’s mentor, now in his third year with the university, said they had “connected on a deep level” over the past three-and-a-half weeks.
“That sort of positive vibe and cohesion are what you want as a coach. We’ve used the time to review our culture and the standards we want to set ourselves.”
He said this year’s theme was “lineage” as it represented where each player came from and how it added value to the squad.
“We want to honour the lineage of the players who have gone before us and work as a unit to leave the jersey in a better place,” he explained.
That said, the Varsity Shield will be an enormous challenge to the team from Gqeberha.
“We are quite aware now that every team will be better this year, and that means we also need to be better.”
For example, UP-Tuks, who were relegated from the Varsity Cup last season, will bring “a different physical challenge” to the party with their big forwards who seek to dominate up front.
“We have also tried to up our game in that department. To be competitive, we have to be able to match them,” Manuel said.
After analysing their approach in recent seasons, they identified key elements to work on – with physicality right at the top of the list.
To this end, they have worked hard to develop the physical stature of players alongside the mental resilience needed to match strong opposition.
Technique, especially when tackling, was also a focus area to give them a better chance of dominating collisions.
The final aspect was work rate, which is the key to moving faster and competing for longer periods. Here they worked with the fitness experts at the Madibaz High Performance Centre.
Manuel said they had been able to maintain some continuity in the 2024 squad, which will be captained by loose forward Leon van der Merwe. Several exciting players have also been brought into the setup.
S’bulelo Roji, previously from Walter Sisulu University, comes in as a tighthead prop while Dewald Gerber, who played for Outeniqua High in George and South Western Districts schools, will slot in at lock.
Then there is flyhalf Raashied Conrad, a product of SACS in Cape Town, who is renowned for his running and goal-kicking skills.
“They should all bring some good stability to our squad,” Manuel said.
After pre-season matches against Walter Sisulu and SWD, Madibaz will ramp up their prep with a fixture against the EP Elephants at Madibaz Stadium on Saturday.