By OVAYO MILISA NOVUKELA
Eastern Cape Universities had a mixed start to their 2022 Varsity Shield Campaign at the Rhodes University Great Field on the weekend.
Everything is on the line this season – with the promotion/relegation spots in play, every team involved in this campaign will have to bring their A-game in every match.
Hosts Rhodes University had a bad start, losing both matches to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) had a mixed weekend. They followed their shock 22-23 defeat to the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a narrow win against the Tshwane University of Technology.
Meanwhile, Fort Hare showed the other teams that they are a force to be reckoned with as they won both matches.
Walter Sisulu University, considered one of the favourites in this season’s campaign, started poorly by going down to UKZN. WSU started like a house on fire with two tries in the first 15 minutes. But UKZN immediately came back with a touchdown in the first half.
Things took a turn for the worse for WSU as their defensive structure lost shape, and ill-discipline led to the concession of a series of – and then eventually tries. WSU head coach Thembani Mkhokheli said his forwards hadn’t committed hard enough in the scrum and lineouts, which exposed the backline.
“The boys did not take the loss very well as it changed the atmosphere of the camp. We had an open and honest team talk on Saturday to identify our mistakes,” Mkhokheli said.
It seems the team meeting worked well. They came to the match against Tshwane University with a point to prove and managed a narrow 25-20 win.
WSU started very badly by conceding two tries in the first 10 minutes but came back immediately with tries from lock Miyelani Ngobeni and vice-captain Asekho Marubelela.
The true potential of WSU rugby then came to the fore as they moved the ball quickly and exploited TUT’s defensive gaps, especially out wide.
Mkhokheli said WSU had the best fitness conditioning team out of all the Varsity Shield competitors this season and knew TUT would be exposed in the latter stages of the match.
Ayabulela Zono scored the critical try of the match. The Player That Rocks award went to Miyelani Ngobeni for his influential display of power throughout the game.
“Our forward coach Tiger Mangweni told us that if we were committed to the rucks, mauls and scrums and were aggressive for the entire game, we would win. His advice was massive to the forward pack,” said Ngobeni.
Rhodes University has one primary objective this season – to survive relegation. That objective started horribly as they lost to the defending champions, CPUT 7-38. But, they put up a stirring fight against DUT, going down 5-8 (see separate reports on Page ?).
Rhodes’s play in an Eastern Cape derby against the University of Fort Hare on 19 March.
Fort Hare is a force to be reckoned with as they won both their matches against Tshwane University and UKZN.
In the first match, UFH’s structures were unbalanced, but they found a way to win 13-3 courtesy of tries by Kamvelihle Fatyela and Migcobo Bovu. The Player That Rocks award went to Migcobo Bovu for his dominating and aggressive play.
UFH went to dominate the game against UKZN. UFH were more organised and played the ball more quickly and decisively out wide, but most importantly, they won in critical parts such as scrums, mauls, and lineouts, which made them deadly in transitional play.
Yamkela Mzozoyana, Ryan Maree, Sananelo Ndlazi and Ayabulela Xhosana all touched down for UFH. Flyhalf Keith Chiwara was named the Player That Rocks for his excellent kicking and creating opportunities.
It promises to be a thrilling season. All the games will be televised on SuperSport.