Impi firmly focused on Varsity Cup inclusion in 2016

2014-12-24 00:00

UKZN Impi have their eyes firmly set on promotion into the Varsity Cup in 2016 after a hard few weeks of preseason training ahead of their 2015 Varsity Shield campaign.

The University side enjoyed a solid 2014 ­season but came short in the Varsity Shield final against CUT, missing out on automatic promotion into the 2015 premier division — the Varsity Cup.

The KZN side then faced UJ in their last chance to move into the big leagues but lost 42-8 in the promotion/relegation clash in April.

A new rule in next year’s competition sees the top two finishers in the Varsity Shield earn automatic promotion to the Varsity Cup and Impi’s coaching staff intend on making it a reality.

Assistant coach Dylan Campbell remains onboard this year and takes charge of the Impi backline. The 26-year-old has been with the side since their inclusion in the Varsity Shield.

He will help new head coach Ryan Strudwick in their promotion effort next year. With the tournament kicking off in February, the coaches were hard at work in the off-season.

“We have been trained over a month and did a lot of conditioning at the two campuses. Ryan was based with the guys at the Durban campus while I looked after the players in Pietermaritzburg,” Campbell told The Witness.

The two squads met up for a week-long camp in Durban at the beginning of December before breaking for the Christmas holidays.

“We trained from December 1 to 5. We had two sessions a day, gym in the morning and a field session in the afternoons,” Campbell said.

“The focus was mainly on basic skill level improvement — what we call unit skills. We also worked on basic structures, which we will fine-tune early next year.”

Campbell was also happy with the players’ conditioning after their pre-season training. It is now up to his charges to maintain their fitness levels during the short break.

Impi are back in camp from January 5 and the side will be sharpening up before playing both College Rovers and Durban Collegians in warm-up games towards the end of the month.

“To be honest, those games are not about results. We start our Shield campaign before they go into the Community Cup, so we are looking to test new combinations and get our structures right — it’ll be the first time a lot of the guys play together.”

Earlier this month, Campbell said he was excited to have kept a large contingent of players who battled it out for Impi this year. A new rule also limits the team to four first-year students in its ranks in 2015 — which actually helps in terms of continuity.

Campbell is backing Shayne Makombe and Lwazi Ngcungama, who were named Varsity Shield backline and forward players of the tournament respectively, to be standout performers once again next season.

The coaches could also benefit from former All Black, Lions and Western Force coach John Mitchell in a consultancy capacity.

“Mitch has said that he will make himself available from time to time, but he has really been a mentor to me. I often call him for advice and tips, it’s been great having him around,” Campbell said.

Taking a look at the past season, the backline coach has taken plenty of positives despite missing out on promotion.

“It was a great year and we were just six minutes away from losing the final in Bloemfontein. The promotion/relegation was always going to be tough — that UJ side were well rested.”

Campbell suggested that the negative results were a blessing in disguise, worrying that his side don’t quite have the depth to be prepared for the rigours of Varsity Cup.

With another year to prepare, the assistant coach is positive and is clear about his side’s goals for the new year.

“With a clear-cut chance to be promoted, our target is to qualify for the Shield final. Experience has shown me that we need to win our four home games and aim for two away wins. That is the recipe for success,” Campbell said.

UKZN Impi kick off their Varsity Shield campaign on February 2 against University of Western Cape. The game will be televised.

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