Transitioning seamlessly to the sevens format and adapting to the heat are two factors that could see the Madibaz teams avoid digging a “big hole” for themselves at this weekend’s University Sports South Africa rugby tournament in Kimberley.
The event will take place at the Sol Plaatje University on Saturday and Sunday.
Men’s coach Jarryd Buys anticipated a tough visit to the sweltering Northern Cape town but felt an enthusiasm to play the sport’s quickest format would stand them in good stead.
“There is massive interest among the students,” he said.
They did however face challenges in preparation due to many of the players still being involved in the Varsity Shield and Grand Challenge competitions.
On that note, losing in the quarterfinals of the latter may have been a blessing in disguise as it gave the squad an extra week’s training.
Bouncing between formats was not always as seamless as one would’ve hoped, Buys noted.
“The players always ask to be involved because they enjoy the different dynamic, but there is a change in thinking that has to take place.”
He said that being good at 15-a-side rugby did not automatically translate into excelling at sevens. Therefore the coaching team’s first objective was to transition the players to a mind-set demanded by the quicker format.
“The best way to prepare is to play the game and that’s when a lot of players suddenly realise how different and tiring it is,” Buys said. “We structure our training to resemble a proper match.”
This involves simulating getting back into position after tackling or being tackled as quickly as possible and doing 30 to 40-second sprints to work on acceleration.
Although they could not replicate the heat for which Kimberley is known, Buys said they were mentally as ready as they could be.
“Several of the players were at last year’s tournament at the same venue, so they have some experience of what we will face,” he said.
“We will check the conditions closer to the weekend but it’s something we have discussed.”
Women’s coach Namhla Siyolo said her team aimed to finish in the top six after disappointing last year.
“In 2021, we did very well to qualify for the Varsity Sports tournament, but we fell away a bit last year.”
She believed a top-six performance would go a long way to restoring order and was hopeful that some of the Madibaz players would be selected for the USSA national team to tour France next season.
“The priority is to make sure we have clarity on the systems we have put in place and that each player understands what her role is.”
She, too, believed that the heat could be telling.
“Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather.
“My philosophy is that fitness beats everything, so we have focused heavily on that and are ready for what will be a tough weekend against the country’s top varsity teams.”