By OVAYO MILISA NOVUKELA
It’s a big weekend for student rugby as Rhodes University hosts the Varsity Shield.
Along with Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Fort Hare, Rhodes is one of three Eastern Cape universities competing for the Varsity Shield.
WSU’s All Blacks are coming into the competition as one of the favourites to win this year. WSU head coach Thembani Muri Mkhokheli is joined by a new forward coach, Tiger Mangweni.
“The team has made the required preparations for this season, and we have also done team-building training, which assists in the chemistry amongst the players,” Mkhokheli said.
He started as head coach last January after the untimely passing of Sipho Metula. Mkhokheli said Metula’s rugby philosophy was very similar to his, making it easy to settle and adjust to the team. But, he added a touch of his ideas to the team.
This season, WSU’s captain is Sicelo Thole and the vice-captain Asekho Marubelela. Mkhokheli has made it clear that they come into the season with one primary objective: to be the most dominant team in the competition.
“This year is a critical year as most of our players in the 35-man squad will be in their last year,” he said. He further added that he wants to achieve what no other team in the history of WSU rugby has ever done – and that is to bring the cup to Mthatha.
The All Blacks come to this weekend’s double blockbuster with no injuries, which will make them all the more dangerous. Mkhokheli also brought in a psychologist to ensure that the players were mentally prepared for the season.
The WSU All blacks will face the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal on Friday at 5 pm, then the Tshwane University of Technology on Sunday at 5 pm.
The hosts, Rhodes University, come into this weekend and season as the competition’s underdogs. They have a point to prove to themselves and the beloved fans of Rhodes University Rugby. Andrew Royle, Rhodes University Head Coach, is not getting ahead of himself as the main objective is to improve the defensive part of the team, especially in the second half. We are coming into this season a lot more prepared and have made the necessary steps to improve our problems.”
This season, the Rhodes University Rugby team is coming with the best average age group the university has ever had and has increased the team’s number of players. Royle also said he would have loved to make a three-year plan with the team, but the prime focus is to ensure that they don’t get relegated at the end of the season, which adds pressure to the players and him.
This year Rhodes University’s first-time captain, Simelela Mbanzi, who plays inside-centre, is feeling excited about the season as the team has a young but skilful side. This season’s squad is youthful and carries a winning mentality from high school, which will positively influence the group at large,” he said excitedly.
Mbanzi said that he was honoured and privileged to be given the responsibility to lead the team. It is not my first time I became a captain in a rugby team as I was captain for my under-15 squad at my school, but I have been in leadership groups in most of my teams.”
Rhodes has two minor injuries heading to the weekend, but Coach Royle said he would closely monitor their condition before and during their matches. Rhodes University will play the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on Friday at 7 pm then the Durban University of Technology on Sunday at 7 pm.
“This year, you must expect a more competitive side from us, and we will ensure that we will leave everything on the field and make our loyal supporters proud despite the problems we face,” said Mbanzi.
The University of Fort Hare could not be reached as they are facing internal problems.
R20 tickets will be sold online, or you can get yourself a ticket and the official Varsity Shield T-shirts at R60. You can also watch the matches on Supersport Schools.