Leon van der Merwe

The Madibaz are preparing themselves for a supreme test against the best sides in the country at the University Sports South Africa rugby tournament in Durban this weekend.

The annual week sees the Nelson Mandela University outfit competing in the top eight, with their opening match against the formidable NWU-Pukke on Saturday.

The fact that they will be up against the FNB Varsity Cup champions is an indication of the strength of the competition, which finishes next Wednesday.

Adding to the challenge is the presence in their pool of the Stellenbosch and Pretoria universities, both of whom are regular Varsity Cup title contenders before the latter were relegated to the Shield this year.

Madibaz mentor David Manuel said they had spent the last two weeks in full preparation mode.

“In a way it has been a testing period post Varsity Shield because we had to allow the guys some time off to catch up on their academic commitments,” he said.

However, once the exams were a thing of the past, the Madibaz went at it hammer and tongs to build their form ahead of the USSA competition.

This past weekend saw them tackle a two-day camp on campus and the team round off their preparation yesterday and will hop on a bus on tomorrow.

Leon van der Merwe

Loose forward Leon van der Merwe will captain the Madibaz at the University Sports SA rugby tournament in Durban from July 8 to 12. Photo: Varsity Sports

A satisfied Manuel described it as a “fruitful time”.

The composition of the squad is similar to the one that did duty in the Varsity Shield, with loose forward Leon van der Merwe given the responsibility of marshalling the troops.

On the down side, the Madibaz might find themselves “a bit short” in the lock department after both suffered injuries.

While that could potentially hurt the team, Manual also saw it as an opportunity for someone else to step up to the plate.

The tough programme in Durban would go a long way in developing the squad, the coach said.

“It’s going to be an interesting journey.”

His goal is to help the young men become more technically and tactically aware as they learn about the physical and mental side of the game against top-flight opposition.

The most important lesson for the USSAs was to stay in the fight for the full 80 minutes.

“We know the speed and intensity of these Varsity Cup teams are much higher than we are used to,” Manuel explained. “Therefore a lot of our conversations have been about competing for the whole match.”