March 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
In part 2: Madibas, I would like to tell our story. To put it another way, the story of the team who had made the wooden spoon their own since the start of the Varsity Cup. Nelson Madela Metropolitan University (NMMU), formaly known as the University of Port Elizabeth (UPE) was in its hayday a wonderful breeding group for rugby players but in the last ten or so year this has become less so.
Untill now… the university is coming around to the fact that a good rugby program with a winning team brings in more students and money. We are a rugby crazed nation. Even if you are not one of the crazed if I asked you who are the top hockey or netball or football universities, most of you would not have a clue. But if I say Maties, UCT, Tuks, Shimlas, you immediately think rugby.
The university has invested in a good coach, with a heart for the game, to turn things around. And you need a big heart to turn a smallish budget club around. Its hard to sign players if you are the bottom of the log team and many had to be begged before they reluctantly signed. The coaching staff worked over time: to get new players, to get their game plan in order, get the players to buy into their game plan and way of playing.
I think its fair to also thank coaches like Jake White and Pieter de Villier (former French Prop & now Villagers coach) who took the time to help out.
During our preparation I felt very confident about our chances of ending mid table after the competition. And for a team that had, before this year, only won one game, it would be quite an achievement. We started with two home games.
Our first game was TUKS. We knew they had worked with Heyneke Meyer and at times trained with the Bulls. The player’s nerves was just too much and with some great play from last year’s club champs flyhalf TUKS punished us. We showed potential at time but struggles with patients. We got hammered 37 – 8.
Our next encounter was with now log leaders UJ. They did not look very convincing during the first round and we thought we had a chance. We held our own and, I felt, dominated them in the tight phases. Again our patients ran out and we just could not finish them off. We lost again 21 – 16. Those who watched the game will remember how we sat in their 22 forever but could just not cross the chalk in the final minutes of the game.
We then hit the road for a very difficult fortnight: First UCT and then Maties. I think some of the UCT forwards still have nightmares after that encounter. Both their lock ended their games in the infirmary, one concussed, the other with a shoulder injury. They cleared their bench more than once as UCT players limped of the park. We broke them in the scrums and in the tight phases.
The southeaster blew us to pieces, as did their backline. In the first half they just kicked us back into our own 22m area and punished us with long range penalties. In the second half they quickly realized not to take us on in front. Any mistake we made they would move the ball quickly through to the backline. This was mostly the Western Province u21 backline that won the u21 Curry Cup last year. They ran us to pieces with great pace and skill, punishing us again and again. I felt the score line flattered them as they won 49 – 12.
We quickly had to pick up the pieces for the following week. Maties was turning out to be beatable and we were hoping for an upset. As it turned out Maties was not going to give us a minutes rest. In the first seven minutes we found ourselves 12 – 0 down. The guys picked themselves up and fought courageously for most of the match.
With only two minutes on the clock the score was 35 – 17. Maties turned up the heat once again and within a couple of minutes had done what they did at the beginning of the match and scored two converted tries to win 49 – 17. This was heart breaking for the guys. Ten minutes of not concentrating 100% lead to four tries and 26 points.
Luckily we were back home to play the only team NMMU have ever beaten in the four years of the Varsity Cup. TUT was sitting pretty in the sixth position after beating TUKS. One of the TUKS players had got himself into a little trouble and received a red card. This swung the game in TUT’s favour.
The boys got themselves, with a great deal of help from the coaching staff, in the right head space. We seemed to struggle with confidence in the first half, trailing 15 – 9 at half time. Everything came together in the second half. They fought hard and after putting a couple of phases together the TUT defence collapsed. The boys from NMMU ran them to pieces and won their first ever bonus point win by scoring four tries. The Madibas triumphed 40 – 15 and drinks were on the house!
The players’ confidence was high as we left for the Highveld and the injured Pukke. They had lost five games in a row and were there for the taking. But as the boys from the North West will tell you, an injured buck is the most dangerous animal. They had slowly been improving over the last couple of weeks and we never saw them coming. The guys did not seemed to arrive for the game. The runny tummies in the camp did not really help. We got a proper hammering 57 – 6. We were only in the game for a short while with the score 7 – 6 in their favour, but only for a short while.
After taking such a hammering its hard to pick yourself up, for coaches and players alike. The sms’s from the Shimlas camp came through after they beat TUT convincingly: we are coming to get a bonus point win from you guys next week.
Contrary to most people’s belief things like that don’t unite a team or psyc them up. The boys were really down but slowly the leaders and motivator from inside the team started talking. Its great for the management staff to see things like this happen. When coaches have said it all its up to the players and when they start motivating each other… well, it makes you feel proud of the guys.
Shimlas was by no means a push over. They had beaten Maties and Tuks, narrowing losing to UJ and they were in Port Elizabeth for the kill. The Madibas played like men possessed. Sometimes too possessed as we gave away many penalties for off side play and other unnecessary infringements. The boys of NMMU led at half time by a narrow score line of 3 -0. They continued to dominate and three quarters of the way led 13 – 0. But the Shimlas are a die-hard team and fought their way back with the help of some dubious decisions by the referee to scrap out a 17 – 13 win.
It was a sad los but NMMU had secured a vital bonus point for losing by less than seven point and so staying clear of the relegation zone.
The Madibas had managed to finish seventh. And though 7th out of 8 team does not seem like much of an improvement we conceded 20 tries less than last year. We have the point difference in games and gave a couple of big name universities a good scare.
I think the future is looking bright for NMMU’s rugby program but only if the university is willing to invest in the program. The EP King (Eastern Province Elephants of old) need to work side-by-side with the university. At the moment this has not been possible as the EP Kings closed their door to the university last year. In a local newspaper article they went as far as to say no player that plays for NMMU will be able to get an EP contract, and no EP contracted player will play for NMMU. This makes recruiting even harder.
A union should not want to dominate an university or control their structures but work together were a mutual middle groud if found. Think of the way Werstern Province supports UCT and Maties. They are seperate entities working together.