Impi coach’s risk crucial in title victory

2015-04-08 00:00

A CALCULATED risk proved to be the deciding factor in helping UKZN Impi claim their first ever Varsity Shield title on Monday night when they beat Wits 29-23.

Impi head coach Ryan Strudwick decided to play a backline combination that had not been seen during this year’s competition, but the experience gained in last year’s Sharks U19 side showed as his halfbacks and centres combined beautifully to give the Impi the cohesion needed to beat a very clinical Wits side.

Strudwick tapped into combinations formed last year. Scrumhalf Rowan Gouws linked up well with returning flyhalf Innocent Radebe who ran the show on Monday. Meanwhile powerful centres Marius Louw and Marcel Coetzee proved crucial in keeping the Wits backs at bay on defence.

While his backs were impressive, the whole Impi team can be lauded for what was definitely their most polished performance this season.

“We are extremely happy, there was a slight risk with the selection I made but it worked out perfectly. I’m not sure what was more pleasing, our attack or defence. In our previous games Wits had bullied us at the breakdown and on attack,” Strudwick told The Witness yesterday.

“The backs I selected had the ability to stop them dead in their tracks. I’m happy all round, we had to work hard for it but we came right in the end.”

Impi’s forwards laid down a solid foundation at the set pieces but Radebe’s game management had a huge influence in the game. Out injured for a long portion of the competition, the promising pivot came back in and controlled the game like a puppet master.

He kicked with accuracy and took on the line, which kept the Wits defenders guessing what the Impi would do with the ball. Radebe was also brave on defence — as were all of his team-mates, which arguably ended up winning the game.

“Innocent is pure class, he is definitely one for the future and I have no doubt it won’t be long before he is in a Sharks jersey,” Strudwick said.

While individuals shone, the sense of belief showed by the Impi was inspiring and it ended up giving captain Lwazi Ngcungama the perfect send­off to his Varsity Shield career. The outstanding openside flank has led his side valiantly this season, and it was high time he lifted the Shield trophy after years of heart break.

“The guys were ecstatic after the win. They had a tough break last year missing out on promotion. It was also Lwazi’s last Shield game so it was a fitting end having come so close last year.”

While those in second place are often forgotten, Wits must be commended for a near perfect Shield campaign. They had beaten Impi twice during the round robin phases, and Monday’s loss was their first of the season.

And it was closer than Strudwick would have liked.

The hosts scored five minutes before the end of the game to bring the match within five points. The Impi managed to absorb the pressure and hold out for the win.

“I was nervous from the start to the end. We nearly let them have it at the end but luckily the guys pulled through.”

With the Shield in the bag, Strud­wick steps away from Varsity and club rugby for the rest of the year while he coaches the Sharks Vodacom Cup and U21 sides.

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