UKZN’s big sport boost

2015-04-23 00:00

UKZN Impi’s first ever Varsity Shield win has lead to a promise from the ­University of KwaZulu Natal to ­spearhead their sporting programmes in the future.

The Impi won the Varsity Shield final on April 6, beating Wits 29-24 to lift the trophy after they had lost to the ­Johannesburg-based side twice during the round-robin stages.

The final was another matter entirely, and now coach Ryan Strudwick and his team are eyeing next season’s Shield with an eye on winning promotion to the more esteemed Varsity Cup.

“Rugby has come a long way here and it’s fantastic for us to have won the final. When I played for the university, we were competitive, but we never lifted the trophy,” Strudwick said at a celebratory lunch hosted at the UKZN Durban campus yesterday, where dignitaries from Saru, KZN Rugby Union and UKZN came together to pay tribute to the Impi.

Strudwick highlighted how important the relationship between the Sharks and the university had been in helping the Impi claim the Shield.

“I have to thank Mark Schulze (UKZN Impi chairperson) for convincing me to coach this team. He came up with the idea to get the Sharks involved and finally got through to Jake White last year,” he said.

Strudwick came on board alongside last year’s coach John Mitchell, and laid the foundation that would eventually result in success this year.

“It took a monumental effort, but the partnership is a great opportunity to build the UKZN brand.”

However Strudwick believes the partnership needs to continue — saying the difficulties of funding, having good depth in the squad and making sure players succeed academically have to be continually addressed.

“Rugby is a driving force in the country, but academics need to play a role as well. We need to do this all again next year if we are to be promoted to the Varsity Cup. That means our players need to get to lectures and pass as well as recruit more guys. You need a squad of around 60 players to compete in the Varsity Cup — that is the challenge facing the Varsity and the Sharks,” ­Strudwick said.

The good news is that the university is on board.

UKZN vice-chancellor and principal Albert van Jaarsveld promised to make sport an integral part of the university.

“The few games I’ve watched this season, I was amazed by the pace of the game. You have set the tone for UKZN and made us tremendously proud. I’m looking forward to next year, with the possibility of a promotion/relegation in the Varsity Cup,” Van Jaarsveld said.

On that note, the principal vowed to increase the support of sport at the university, recognising the opportunities provided to potential players, coaches and managers.

“I have had conversations with executive management, and we are going to push sport as a strategic asset at this institution. We feel sport has been ­undervalued, and we haven’t harnessed the possibilities.

“It is not only players, we want to help develop sports people as well as provide opportunities for people to go into professional sports management.”

Meanwhile Saru president Oregan Hoskins, a UKZN alumnus, praised UKZN for bringing pride back to a team he recalls as being highly competitive as a young student.

“The university missed the boat ­badly in the past. I remember writing to the previous principal many times, asking to initiate discourse between ­Saru and the university to get a partnership going.

“This won’t be a well-rounded institution until sport is made part and parcel of the university,” Hoskins said.

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