UKZN’s positive mood

2013-09-19 00:00

THE mood in the University of KwaZulu-Natal rugby camp is very positive as the players, officials and supporters look forward to next year.

In a major coup, the club, which incorporates students from all three campuses — Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Westville — have recently signed former All Blacks head coach John Mitchell as head of rugby for 2013 and his vast experience will filter through to all corners of the club’s playing and coaching activities.

And the mood was enhanced at the annual UKZN rugby club dinner, which was attended by guest of honour and new Sharks CEO John Smit — the celebrated former Springbok and Sharks captain.

In his humorous yet heartfelt address at Maritzburg Bowling Club, Smit recounted to the gathering from Durban and Pietermaritzburg his introduction to KZN rugby as a student on the PMB campus, fresh out of Pretoria Boys’ High. It was a period in which he rapidly progressed from the Varsity U20s to the University’s first XV, Natal B and as a substitute for Natal against Martin Johnson’s touring British Lions.

Durban was the natural place to go for this precocious talent, yet he has fond memories of his student days in PMB, during which he shared a digs with fellow future Springboks, Sharks and PMB Varsity students Shaun Sowerby and Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

During the evening, Smit presented the prestigious Player of the Year trophy to sports science student Lwazi Ngcungama, the dynamic flanker. The award capped a successful year for Ngcungama, who was previously shortlisted for the Varsity Shield forward of the tournament award and was recently selected for the KZN All Stars XV, which played a trial match against the Sharks.

Meanwhile, Mitchell has been kept busy assembling his coaching and support teams for the upcoming Varsity Shield and 2014 KZN league and cup campaigns. Speaking to The Witness, Mitchell said: “I am in the process of finalising the make up of our coaching staff. I want to deploy both new and incumbent coaches in order to get the best results for UKZN Rugby going forward.”

Mitchell also made mention of player recruitment, which he said was going well. “We have a very good existing core of players who were put through a strength testing programme last weekend. Then we have had support from the Sharks family; there are Academy, U21 and senior players who wish to further their studies at UKZN.

“At the same time, we are casting the net wide and are planning camps and trial matches in both Maritzburg and Durban in early December.

“I would encourage all prospective players to e-mail an abbreviated CV to that includes their rugby background and academic record.”

There was further good news for UKZN Rugby when their Howard College (Durban campus) team beat Pinetown in a play-off match to retain their spot in the KZN First Division in 2014, while on the PMB campus, the Steinhoff Campus League is in full swing.

This league involves eight internal teams, such as Denison Residence, Agriculture Faculty, Students’ Representative Council, and a number of digs teams, playing in two round-robin pools culminating in the final on October 9.

The university’s flagship team, the UKZN Impi, are champing at the bit as they look towards next season’s Varsity Shield competition.

The 2013 head coach, Shawn van Rensburg, who is also head of rugby at Voortrekker and piloted the UKZN Maritzburg side in the domestic league and cup season, said the Impi finishing third in this year’s Varsity Shield campaign was a commendable achievement.

“I was very proud of how well the boys did this year, and the Impi can only improve going forward,” Van Rensburg told The Witness. “Having John Mitchell on board means that things can only get better. He has done it all and there is much to learn from such a great coach.”

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