There are sure to be plenty of fireworks when the opening matches of the Mzwandile Mali Schools Rugby tournament are played at the Adcock Stadium on Friday (February 14).
This popular event, initiated by Lincoln Mali to honour his father and to promote township schools rugby, will be held for the seventh year, with Ndzondelelo out to defend the title.
It will feature many of the township heavyweights, including Ithembelihle and Solomon Mahlangu, and will provide a feast of rugby for supporters of the competing schools.
Following Friday’s matches, the winning teams will advance to the play-off rounds, which will take place at the Isaac Wolfson Stadium on March 19 and 20.
A major incentive for the players is that a Mzwandile Mali Schools squad of 25 will be chosen at the conclusion of the tournament for a trip to the United Kingdom in September, to be hosted by Sevenoaks Rugby Club in Kent.
The draw was done at Newell High School on Monday and three-time defending champions Ndzondelelo will have an interesting encounter in their opening game against Gamble Street Secondary at 3pm.
Ndzondelelo have been working hard in preparation for the event and coach Pumelele Martin said he knew they would be a target for the other teams in the tournament.
“We know there will be some tough matches along the way but we are ready for the challenge which faces us,” he said.
“That is the nature of being champions – other schools would like to topple us, but we are well prepared for our games.”
He added that they were excited about the nature of the event.
“This is very important to all the township schools because it helps to revive the game in these areas and we are looking forward to showing what we can do.”
Solomon Mahlangu will also be among the leading contenders when they open the programme on the A field against Newell High at 1pm.
In the first match on the B field, last year’s runners-up Molly Blackburn will be determined to make up for the narrow loss against Ndzondelelo in last year’s final, but first they must overcome Mzontsundu.
Ithembelihle will also be potential title contenders and they will be looking to get off to a good start in the first match on the B field against Loyiso.
Beside the chance of being selected for the squad to tour overseas, there are plenty of incentives for the players.
The winning high school will pocket R50 000 in prize money, while the runners-up take home R25 000 and the semifinalists R10 000 each.
For individual awards, the man of the tournament will win R10 000, plus a school bursary worth R10 000.
The coach of the tournament will be awarded R10 000, with the backline and forward players of the tournament each scoring R5 000.
The fixtures are:
- A field: 1pm: Solomon Mahlangu v Newell; 2pm: Cowan v Lungisa; 3pm: Ndzondelelo v Gamble
- B field: 1pm: Mzontsundu v Molly Blackburn; 2pm: Kwazakhele v Phakamisa; 3pm: Booysen Park v Kabane
- C field: 1pm: Ithembelihle v Loyiso; 2pm: Sakhisizwe v winning team (A ground); 3pm: Cingari v winning team (A ground)
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