Khakalethu Bophito - VARSITY CUP 2021

Despite the challenges they will be facing as a young team, the FNB Madibaz are determined to stand strong against more experienced opposition in this year’s FNB Varsity Cup, which kicks off on Monday.

As they finalised their preparations for their opening match against Wits in Johannesburg, coach David Manuel explained that the Nelson Mandela University outfit had only four players left from last year’s squad.

He acknowledged that they would go into the match us underdogs but said this rebuilding phase was no excuse for not “going out there to give it our best.”

“We know Wits are a very good team and they have been competitive for the last couple of tournaments,” the former professional player said.

“They have a coaching staff which is very experienced, but we just want to go out and be the best version of ourselves and make ourselves proud.”

He added that they had settled on the word “Ubuntu” as their mantra for the season.

“This means ‘I am because of you’ and basically translates into believing the common bonds within a group are more important than any individual arguments and divisions within it.

“We really want to embody that in the way we do things on and off the field this season.”

Khakalethu Bophito - VARSITY CUP 2021

FNB Madibaz player Khakalethu Bophito will be eager to make an impact when they open their FNB Varsity Cup campaign against Wits in Johannesburg on Monday. Photo: Varsity Cup

Since taking up the post late last year, Manuel has focused on educating the squad on the demands of playing in a semi-professional tournament.

“It’s been tough as not many of them have been exposed to this sort of environment and they haven’t played any rugby since the 2021 Varsity Cup,” he said.

“It has been about getting them back in it as well as to evaluate their growth, focusing on technical skills development, building systems and having discussions about the team culture and what the team means to them.”

The Madibaz mentor has been impressed with the commitment and dedication shown by the squad in the months building up to their first game.

“One thing I can say is that they have worked hard to be where they are now. They are looking better, moving better, and we are at a place where they believe in themselves and the systems.

“I have been very happy with their positivity, their fight and their resilience – they are a never-say-die bunch of guys who have the ability to inspire me daily.”

In preparation for Monday’s Wits fixture, Madibaz played warm-up games against Walter Sisulu University and Fort Hare, as well as a training match with the EP Elephants.

“What impressed me in the first game was the physicality of the players. WSU have big players and we really stood up against them physically,” said Manuel.

“In the second game against Fort Hare our objective was all about the discipline to stay in our systems. We achieved that in a way.

“The last training against the Elephants was also good for us in terms of dealing with the speed and physicality they brought on the day. That stretched us and it was a great learning experience.”

Kick-off is at 7pm.