Fort Hare head coach Elliot Fana is looking forward to some enthusiastic support when his side takes on FNB Wits in the opening game of the all-new Varsity Shield.
The match, which will be televised live on SuperSport, will be held at Fort Hare's newly-revamped stadium in Alice on Monday, January 31 and Fana is anticipating an electric atmosphere.
"Our people support us all the way, they are behind us.
"Even when we came back from the pre-season tour there was a crowd of people welcoming us back," he told varsitycup.co.za.
Despite losing all three of their pre-season matches against Border, Rovers (from Welkom) and Varsity Cup side, FNB Shimlas, the Fort Hare boss did take a number of positives from the tour.
He explained: "Our defence was out-of-sorts when we played Border, and we could not build phases. But when we went up to the Free State on tour we played Rovers on a wet field. Rovers were very physical and we learnt a lot of lessons from that game in terms of physicality.
"Our defence is improving all the time, but it is early days because three days later we played Shimlas which I think was a bridge too far for us and we conceded eleven tries."
Despite the one-sided result against the powerful Shimlas, Fana is glad that he exposed his charges to such high-quality opposition ahead of the first-ever Varsity Shield tournament.
"Shimlas are a very strong team with big names, they also have a good coach; it was, like I said earlier, a bridge too far for us," he admitted.
"[But] I'm not reading a lot into that game in terms of the scoreboard. But in terms of what I wanted to achieve on the day - to play against a high-intensity side with a good tight and loose game, as well as being able to take the ball wide to channel three - that was a great opportunity.
"So I was a happy man because we never gave up, and at one stage we managed to put together six phases against a quality side like Shimlas, then you must know that you are on the right track," he added.
Turning his attention to the big clash in Alice on Monday night, he said: "We're looking forward to the opening game.
"Wits are an unknown entity to us, but we do know that they play in a strong league in Johannesburg so they should be an excellent side.
"In terms of numbers rugby-wise they have got more than us but on the day it depends what happens in between the four lines, whoever is psychologically fit for the game and keen to do well will win the game."
By Michael de Vries