UFH - Ryan Maree

From being mocked when he started playing in the backyard of his childhood home, Ryan Maree has made remarkable strides towards becoming a star of the FNB University of Fort Hare rugby team.

The 20-year-old is already making an impact for the Alice outfit at outside centre as he relishes the opportunity to impress in this year’s FNB Varsity Shield tournament.

Being in the spotlight is a far cry from growing up in the small Eastern Cape village of Mqanduli, 30km south of Mthatha.

Maree recalled how he had been laughed at by members of the community when he “took up” a sport that was foreign in his area.

“That was my earliest rugby experience; playing in the yard at home alone,” he said.

Any derision, though, was quickly sidestepped by the keen youngster because he felt he had stumbled upon something to which he could relate.

At Mdedeleni Junior Secondary School, rugby was in its infancy at the time. The team’s schedule was limited to playing against other rural schools in the area like Mount Packard and Zinkawu.

Soon after enrolling at Dudumayo Secondary, Maree got his break when he was offered an opportunity to attend Queen’s College in Komani, one of the great nurseries of rugby in the country.

UFH - Ryan Maree

FNB University of Fort Hare centre Ryan Maree (centre) is on a learning curve as he strives to make his mark on the rugby field. Photo: SuperSport/Varsity Sports

“I couldn’t resist that invitation and that’s where my rugby developed,” he explained.

His journey through the ranks took him to the Border Country Districts U16 team in both 2017 and 2018. And last year he turned out for the Border U20s.

Between his fine arts studies, the second-year student devotes his energy to fine-tuning his skills alongside his Blues teammates.

He felt that he brought a lot of energy and passion to the team, but ranked discipline as the most lethal arrow in his quiver.

“That’s something I strongly believe in,” he said.

“Also, the importance of fighting to the end is massive for me. It’s always about perseverance until the final whistle, no matter the situation.”

As he rubbed shoulders with some of the more experienced players in the Fort Hare line-up, he reflected on how his game had improved since his debut season last year.

“I’m lucky to have played alongside [centre] Migcobo Bovu. He is a player who aims to demolish anyone in front of him while making the person next to him look good.”

The same applied to livewire flank Lukhanyiso Tosholwana, who he said injected so much energy into a match that one simply could not do anything else but give 100 per cent.

Flyhalf Keith Chiwara, who possessed a tremendous rugby IQ, and eighth man and captain Kamvelihle Fatyela, with his ability to “get everyone on the same page”, were others who had influenced his rugby ways.

“Thanks to their guidance, I’m much more confident and my general understanding of the game has improved. Now it’s just working harder and harder to achieve my goal of reaching a professional level.”

Maree will take another step on his journey to masterclass when the Blues face Rhodes in their next Varsity Shield match at home tomorrow.

“It’s not a secret that we are looking for a win after losing our last two games. Despite all the struggles we’ve faced this year, we are trying to produce our best performances on the field.

“On behalf of the team, I urge our supporters not to give up on us. We are getting there.”

Kick-off is at 7pm.