Considering we have won convincingly, lost from a big lead, come back from behind, hit the posts to win a game, had the dropsies, missed crucial tackles, endured players missing training, had our 9 and 10 combination changing 4 times….this learning has had a common thread and that is that we need to create consistency in our chuckers by sticking to structures and finishing what we started. I might add, everything we have experienced thus far gives the team strength for the future and now, as their coach the trick is to understand the why……
3 matches in 7 days – what a test the last week proved to be for the UKZN Impi! For those who are not too familiar with some of the innovative rules of the Varsity Cup and Shield Competition let me enlighten you. For a start – every match is divided into four 20min Chaka’s with a 2 minute break called a strategy break hence the reason I have labelled this post ’12 Chaka’s’.
When the fixtures came out late last year, this past week always stood out from the rest and we knew it would be a very testing time in our Varsity shield campaign. We went into the week with some good momentum off our 1st ever win in Bellville vs. University of Western Cape and also our first win of the season.
First up was hosting the men from Pretoria who last year we managed a 10-9 victory over them at home, so we knew it was going to be an even tougher contest. Leading up to that match, one thing I did notice having returned to the team from injury was that the boys were excited and we were ready to rock on that Monday night. And oh boy did we rock!! The belief and trust in each other was obvious and everyone was focused on not changing much in the way we played – with coach Mitch’s words echoing continuously “Stick to structure, Repeat Repeat Repeat.”
Now if you ask any Pietermaritzburg faithful about the weather on 24th February I’m sure their answer would be along the lines of ‘torrential rain’ and to give you a picture of how bad the rain was the match had to be delayed a little as the field was pretty waterlogged! Nevertheless the match did eventually commence in the most spectacular fashion. You would think it would have been a low scoring affair but that wasn’t the case. We raced into a 24-8 lead and sealed the bonus point try early in the second half which meant we moved into 2nd place on the Varsity shield log straight into that Grand Final spot. After the game we later learned our fly-half ‘the general’ had suffered a fractured scapula which meant he was not going to be available for us for the next game and possibly the remainder of the campaign. We had just lost a very important and influential player.
Reveling in the glory of our win was short lived as we had to recover and travel to the Eastern Cape to face the mighty Fort Hare Blues. Alice is renowned for its rugby fans who always come out in numbers to back there boytjies on Monday nights. For some reason when UKZN Impi are in town, it seems like everything else around the village comes to a standstill and everyone attends the rugby. Singing, praising every pass or tackle Fort Hare make, things do become rather intimidating. This game was probably the 1st biggest challenge outside the four solid lines we had to face as a team. Some of the boys had never played a game faced with such an almighty opposition support crowd in place and how the team as whole would adapt to this atmosphere was going to be a true test on their mental abilities. It didn’t help having to chase the game for the majority of the match but with a lot of guts and belief we managed to salvage a 18-18 draw even though I must add a few refereeing decisions were certainly questionable. I said it to one of the boys afterwards that a draw in rugby is like kissing your own sister! Hard to accept but we would have to just get over it quickly as we had to return home with a day to recover and prepare for the big clash down in Durban against U-dubs aka. University of Western Cape who we beat in the 1st round. As we readied ourselves for game number 3 of the week, the heavens opened again making the game rather slow but what a humdinger it turned out to be. A bumper crowd had turned up and it proved to be an amazing end to end game of rugby. In total, 8 tries were scored and converted and just a late penalty to UWC was enough to separate us with a one point lead to the opposition. The feeling of disappointment on the faces of the boys in the change room after that narrow defeat echoed around us, so close but yet so far. On a lighter note I must mention that probably one of the best individual trys was scored by our winger Shane Makombe who really showed nothing beats speed.
So in a week which saw us get a win, a draw and a narrow loss – we welcomed the bye week which followed allowing us recharge our batteries and prepare for our next match in Pretoria. Whilst weeks like this are nothing short of hectic, what it does for a group of players and coaching staff is priceless. As a team we had grown noticeably closer to each other. The week took us well out of our comfort zone by testing us both mentally and physically but without doubt, the camaraderie of the team kept us going.
UKZN Impi still have everything to play for with just two games remaining. Currently we have 16points in 2nd position. We need to cement our spot in the final because winning that ensures automatic promotion into the ‘big boys’ league – The Varsity Cup
Our last round match will be at home to current log leaders and defending Champions FNB Central University of Technology in PMB on the 24th March. #backyourboytjies