UKZN Back in Action

UKZN Host UFH at Howard College in Monday evening's Varsity Shield clash (7pm kick-off) and this is one of a string of matches that embraces the whole concept of bringing success to KZN at all levels.

"Varsity Cup is a prestigious tier of South African rugby and we're one of the top five provinces that don't currently have a team in Varsity Cup," explains Head Coach John Mitchell. "This is an issue in my view and something we need to address. There is a greater connectedness when you're attracting boys from your own province to remain in the province."

The former All Black coach enjoyed an 86% success rate at international level but accepts that regardless of who you are coaching, there is still a similar job to be done.

"The challenges are all relative, you have the same ones at all levels. Clearly we don't have as much time to prepare or the same budgets or talent pool to select from. Once you have your group together, you have to look to optimise the individuals in the team. You're also balancing conditioning around Christmas and you don't even know who will be in your squad before Christmas because you're waiting on University admissions and players passing or failing their exams.

"As head of rugby, I see my role as setting up a programme to teach and inspire and from there, people become winners. My primary role was to create a coaching group, and now that we're into the competition, it's managing the balance between academic and rugby, that's a key priority."

Having been appointed in September 2013, his energies have been around building the structures into an effective tool and plan for success.

"We're working very hard on setting up our structures, communicating effectively and making sure the players concentrate on academics AND rugby," he says.

While players at a professional union may spend their entire (or the bulk of their) careers with one team, it's not quite the same at this level which can have an impact on leadership and experience, although he does point out that there is some opportunity for continuity.

"Once you're locked into a university, you cannot move to another one to play there, so there is the opportunity for the student to represent the university for three to five years while he studies for his degree.

"The university, the coaches, the Old Boys, - Errol Stewart - are all working very hard to work towards something really special and become a serious part of The Sharks family."

Michael Marnewick