FNB Madibaz rugby coach David Manuel and his players are primed to embark on a journey of redemption as they prepare for this month’s FNB Varsity Shield competition.
The Nelson Mandela University outfit, who open their campaign against Tshwane University of Technology Vikings at home on February 16, are back in the Shield event after two years of playing Varsity Cup.
It was an opportunity, said Manuel, for them to showcase the talent they had in the region, with a focus on achieving the best performances that they could.
“We must be a reflection of the talent within this region. We really feel we have a responsibility towards ourselves, the university and the rugby community in the Eastern Cape,” said the coach as he looked at what lay ahead for the Gqeberha-based team.
“Redemption is a strong word currently in our environment,” he said. “Redemption for ourselves and redemption for Nelson Mandela University, plus the excellence we want to stand for.”
Having lost a number of senior players from the 2022 squad, Manuel said a top priority for the forthcoming season was to instil a sense of physicality in the team.
“In our preparations, we have worked hard to improve our set piece, because without a stable set piece it’s difficult to play this game.
“We have also challenged ourselves to be more resilient in the collision area. We really want to be a physical team going into the Shield competition.”
With the squad’s average age only 22 years, Manuel acknowledged that there was a lack of experience.
“We had to fill the void left by the group of senior players with youngsters, but we hope that they will be able to grow into fulfilling that role quickly.”
Manual said it was a great opportunity for them to develop their games and that he was satisfied with their prep.
“The players really worked hard at our pre-season camp and now we need to ensure that all those efforts are transferred to the field of play.”
The Madibaz coach added that there was a group of senior players such as Arnouw Nel, Liyema Bobelo, Chadwyn November, Leon van der Merwe, Troy Delport and Koliwe Khonza on whom he would rely to lead the way.
He realised, though, that there were challenging times ahead.
“We are excited but nervous.
The competition is massive and teams are getting better every year because everyone wants to be promoted, so there is everything to play for,” said Manuel.
“We want to give it our all to be the best version of ourselves and work hard for one another while knowing what our roles are within the various systems.”