The FNB NMMU Madibaz are looking to put the tough 2015 season behind them as they start preparations for next year’s Varsity Cup rugby tournament.
The squad came together early last month and have spent most of their time on fitness and conditioning in preparation for the challenges ahead.
“The student athletes are heading into exams now, so we expect them to be focused on academics,” said Madibaz head coach David Maidza.
“But they were looking sharp during pre-season training and we have some programmes set up to get them ready for the coming season after they are done with the books.”
Maidza admitted that his team was coming off a challenging season, having won only one of their seven games, especially after reaching the semi-finals in 2014,
“After the 2014 season a lot of the senior players left, leaving a vacuum that we struggled to fill earlier this year. We spent the year plugging most of the holes left after that.”
But Maidza believes the structures in place through the Madibaz and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University‘s partnership with Eastern Province Rugby, and the Southern Kings franchise returning to Super Rugby this coming year, will play a big role in turning the university team’s fortunes around.
“Through the Kings Academy and success the junior EP teams and FNB Madibaz Young Guns have enjoyed this year I truly think things are looking good for the Madibaz. We have a lot of young student athletes coming through the ranks, laying a good foundation for us to build on.”
From a leadership point of view Maidza said he was spoilt for choice, with a lot of players putting their hands up as possible captains to lead the team. Scrumhalf Ivan Ludick was selected as team captain, with loose forward CJ Velleman taking on the vice-captaincy.
“Ivan has been in the system for a while and has grown superbly as a player and a leader. I am positive that he will brings a lot of calmness, control and guidance to the side. CJ is also a natural leader, having proven his qualities in this year’s campaign, and the two will work well together.”
The coach is excited about combining some “young leaders” like Jeremy Ward, Junior Pokomela and Riaan Esterhuizen, among others, with old hands such as Andile Jho and Yamkela Ngam, to form a squad that will excite the “NMMU faithful” in the 2016 season, and for some years to come.
Maidza said they would be aiming for at least a semi-final spot heading into next year’s tournament knowing that anything could happen in the playoff matches.
“A very important point for us at this stage is to retain the talent we have. Our junior teams are doing very well, and with the Kings returning to Super Rugby I believe we have a better chance of keeping our players and not losing them to other franchises.
“We have our own identity in top-tier rugby now, and it is time that we embrace and build that identity,” said Maidza.