The University of Fort Hare’s women’s team are ready to shake off their “Top-4” tag and go all the way at the USSA 7s rugby tournament in Kimberley at the weekend.
In their last three attempts they have made the semifinals twice and lost a final, but coach Lakhe Langa believes the balance of the team – more or less equal parts youth and experience – makes them legitimate contenders.
However, transitioning from 15-a-side rugby can be tricky and doing so without talisman Asisipho Plaatjies, who is on Springbok duty, lifting the trophy come Sunday may be even more so.
Langa, who is assistant coach to Ntyatyambo Mkhafu in the traditional format, has been given the responsibility of whipping a somewhat depleted squad into shape.
Losing key players to injury and national duty hampered their preparation, he conceded. It necessitated that some of the incoming youngsters had to be schooled in sevens strategies and, in some cases, even the rules.
The emphasis changed to conditioning and strength work in the run-in to the event, Langa said.
On the positive side, he was able to call on a core group of five or so experienced players, among them skipper Sivuseko Makhomazi who has been with the side since 2019.
Even though Fort Hare were downed by Stellenbosch University in the semis last year, veterans like Makhomazi would have taken valuable lessons from the encounter.
The tournament took place at the same venue in 2022, which means they will be familiar with the hot conditions.
Incredibly, the 28 and 29°C forecast for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, have brought a sense of relief to Mkhafu.
“Last year the temperature got up to 38°C, so at least this year it will be a bit better,” he explained.
What’s more, with the mercury rising to similar levels in Alice, UFH should be able to take playing in taxing conditions in their stride – especially with the new generation of players impressing Mkhafu with their fitness and speed.
Fort Hare has a proud tradition of doing well at big tournaments – successful tours to France in 2019 and 2022 being a case in point – and he expects their big-match temperament to come to the fore in the heat of the Northern Cape.
Their representation in the national team, as well as four of the 12-member squad making the USSA Dream Team last year, have cemented their reputation as a powerhouse of the game.
“We are like the Springboks – no one overcomes us when it comes to power,” the Mkhafu joked.