The FNB NMMU-Madibaz have come out all guns blazing to register their most successful FNB Varsity Young Guns season yet and all but book a final berth ahead of Monday night’s clash with UP-Tuks in Port Elizabeth.
Should the Madibaz beat the team from Pretoria and earn a four-try bonus point, they will secure a sought-after home final against log-leaders UFS-Shimlas on April 6.
If they lose on Monday night, only a margin of more than 30 points will see them exit the competition, which forms part of the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International.
The team from PE, who had not won a single game since the inception of the competition seven years ago, appear to have been re-energised under the guidance of new coach and former Springbok Robbie Kempson.
Kempson, who took the helm at the beginning of the season, has steered his team to three straight victories in as many matches in this year’s tournament.
Although NWU-Pukke had them on the ropes towards the end of their opening game, the Madibaz managed to hold on to a 34-26 win. They then took a commanding 44-0 triumph over CUT before securing a convincing 41-16 victory over Maties.
The coach was cautiously optimistic ahead of the last remaining hurdle facing his young squad, but warned that Tuks would have size on their side and generally boasted an exceptional kicking game.
“Unfortunately in sport nothing is guaranteed; we have one very difficult game ahead of us and they’re not a side to be underestimated.
“But I’m certainly very encouraged by the manner in which these young men have reacted to the competition through their performances so far,” he said.
He attributed his side’s success to the depth of talent and teamwork, and praised their continuous improvement.
“There are quite a few first years, so they have had to adapt to putting in an 80-minute effort and not taking a break during the match. They have realised that every opponent can be competitive if you’re not always on your game.”
Kempson said there had been a number of stand-out players this season but that individual brilliance should be measured on team outcomes.
He said captain and flyhalf Jason Baggott had led from the front, with strong performances in the backline by centre Jeremy Ward, fullback Lindelwe Zungu, scrumhalf James Hall and wing Athi Mayinje.
Kempson also extended notable mentions to his forwards, especially eighth man Junior Pokomela, flank Lusanda Badiyana and lock Wynand Grasman.
While there was much that was praiseworthy, he added that there were many areas of the game that his players still needed to work on.
“The year is just three months young so they still have much in terms of the analysis of their individual performances to be taken care of.”
Kempson said the players would be taking a well-deserved break after the competition to concentrate on their studies before undergoing individual and unit assessments to assist their progress.
“The value of the Young Guns competition lies in providing a bridge between their school and provincial underage group competitions.
“So how the players react to the challenges of gauging themselves against their peers is most important. If some come out of it with that resolution, then job done,” he explained.
He said the downside was that the team changed too much from year to year for there to be any formal continuity and progression as a unit but that the talent identification structures would help to further individual players’ careers.
“NMMU and the Kings Academy have a joint venture regarding recruiting of talent for underage groups, which has proved to be very successful,” said Kempson.