UKZN rugby to make big strides

2010-06-24 00:00

IS it impossible to imagine that Maritzburg Varsity Rugby Club may become the Stellenbosch of KZN rugby?

“Don’t dream it, believe it,” goes a song by Gino Vannelli, who will only be known to some in my generation, but Gino’s sentiments are entirely appropriate.

PMB Varsity Rugby Club, at 99 years old, have been included in a new competition, the Varsity Shield, which piggy-backs on the astonishing sporting and marketing success of the FNB Varsity Cup, a televised top eight competition featuring the best university rugby teams in the country.

“Our inclusion in the Varsity Shield is definite, and will change rugby at the University of KwaZulu-Natal,” Varsity senior sports administrator for rugby, Reggie Smith, told The Witness on Tuesday.

“Our rugby will not only get a major financial boost from FNB, the Varsity Cup sponsors, but the professional requirements for the competition also require UKZN to commit substantial financial resources to rugby.

“The profile of our rugby will change dramatically.”

Smith and PMB Varsity rugby administrator Shane le Breton are shuttling back and forth to Cape Town and Sandton, where the sponsors have been outlining the strict requirements for the competition.

Smith said high standards are set for all institutions. “The Varsity Cup has sound marketing principles. They operate on a defined value system and UKZN will have to raise the bar in operational terms. The logistics involved in this competition are major, and Varsity will be working very hard on their structure in the next few months.

“We will be having meetings with all our UKZN rugby clubs on the various campuses and also our university administration about our restructuring process. The Varsity Shield will be over 11 weeks and will be played over two rounds, starting early February 2011.”

The highly experienced Smith said Varsity now know in clear terms what will be required for UKZN to get into the Varsity Cup.

“What I can say now is that we are looking at forming one UKZN Rugby Club, with all teams from all campuses falling under one structure. The KZN Premier League team will still be based in PMB, and therefore our Varsity Shield team will also be based in PMB. This, however, has still to be finalised.”

The rules don’t allow for composite teams, and UKZN will have to participate as a lone standing club with all players registered under one club. They will be allowed to field 15 students and seven non-students for any match 22.

“What is fact is that participation in the Varsity Shield will dramatically uplift rugby at UKZN, while the marketing benefits for UKZN will be tremendous,” Smith added.

The winners of the Shield competition between UKZN, Wits, Fort Hare, University of Western Cape and Central University of Technology (Bloemfontein) in 2011 will play off with the eighth-placed team in the Varsity Cup. In 2012, the winner of the shield will be automatically promoted.

“We will be finalising our plans for recruitment, coaching, medical support, marketing etc. over the next few weeks. All the other institutions in the Shield will be doing their homework, and it is up to us to do ours if we want to succeed and get into the Varsity Cup in 2012,” Smith said.

The inclusion of UKZN in the Varsity Shield will create an opportunity for more players in the province to get exposure in a high-profile competition, and gives a massive, and immediate, incentive to players in the Midlands Marauders first team when they meet Zululand in Ebbo Bastard Inter-Sub Union action at Woodburn come 3.30 pm on Saturday.

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