Madibaz - Varsity Shield - Leon vd Merwe

The Madibaz will not deviate an inch from the strategy that have been the hallmark of their success story in the FNB Varsity Shield when they clash with Varsity College on Friday.

The Mandela University outfit will enjoy home-ground advantage when they meet their rivals at the Madibaz Stadium in Gqeberha in what they hope will be a repeat of their victory achieved in the round-robin stages.

Captain Leon van der Merwe, who has been at the heart of Madibaz’s surge into the top four, said they would continue to trust the recipe that had brought them six victories in a row and only one loss this year.

“The key pillars we have built during the season have been our commitment to working as a team, the understanding each player has of his role and our resilience in the face of challenges,” the 22-year-old flanker reiterated this week.

“Whatever the situation we have been faced with we have mostly managed to show the grit and determination to turn the tide in our favour.”

Complementing that, he added, was meticulous planning by the coaching staff, which allowed them to capitalise on their strengths while exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses.

“For me, the highlights have been the collective determination and resilience of the squad,” Van der Merwe, who believed this resolve had been a critical element of their game, said.

The Madibaz have also learnt to adapt to different playing styles without compromising their strengths.

Madibaz - Varsity Shield - Leon vd Merwe

Madibaz flank Leon van der Merwe will lead his team against Varsity College in an FNB Varsity Shield semifinal at the Madibaz Stadium in Gqeberha on Friday. Photo: Varsity Sports

As they approached the semifinal, Van der Merwe said the sense of anticipation was “palpable” within the team as they wanted to showcase the fruits of their labour this season.

At the same time, he warned against getting too worked up by the “sense of occasion”.

“Keeping players from becoming too pumped before the match is essential for maintaining concentration and focus when we get onto the field.

“As a leader you can achieve this by emphasising composure in the build-up and ensuring the players focus on the task at hand.”

Madibaz were forced to withstand a ferocious fightback by Varsity College in their previous encounter, which they won 25-19 after leading 18-5 at halftime.

That match gave them some valuable insight, the skipper said.

“We’ve analysed their tactics, strengths and weaknesses and identified areas we can capitalise on and where we need to make adjustments to our game.”

Varsity College boast a big pack and plenty of speed elsewhere so winning the set-piece battle is important for the Madibaz in order to play in the right areas of the field, enabling them to force their rivals into mistakes.

Van der Merwe said there had been an air of confidence and trust in one another during practice this week.

He did not downplay the advantage of a home crowd, either.

“Besides playing in familiar conditions, the support has been a powerful source of inspiration and motivation. It creates a vibrant atmosphere that uplifts the players.”

The match kicks off at 12.45pm and will be televised live on SuperSport.