This year’s Varsity Shield final might not hold the promise of promotion into the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International as a prize, but for both Wits and UKZN Impi, it presents an opportunity to ensure their long-term plans are on track. The two sides will face each other in Monday night’s final at the Wits Rugby Stadium, with the match broadcast live on SuperSport 201 at 16:30, and for the UKZN Impi’s, this milestone is significant after they missed out on a shot at promotion last year. Impi boss Ryan Struckwick, who took over as head coach this season after serving as an assistant in 2014 says: ‘Our goal is to get into the Varsity Cup and we know it is definitely not going to be easy but we are on a two-three year plan. Unfortunately we fell at the final hurdle last year. It is such a pity that there is no promotion/relegation this year but we are building for next year and I think that we have established a very good foundation this year. We are hopeful that the current squad will remain fairly the same even though we have two or three players who are finishing off their studies and other guys who need to pull through on the academic side of things – that’s the biggest challenge. But we will have the majority of them back next year as we look to get into the Cup competition.’
Wits, who were relegated last season, also have a new coach in Hugo Van As and he has centred the campaign around a young team. It has paid dividends as Wits have gone unbeaten through the season. Van As says: ‘We have laid a solid foundation this year but, as a unit, we have to raise the bar. I believe we can use this platform to make sure we are better and more effective next year (2016). Our challenge will be to qualify for the Cup at the end of next year’s campaign. We are very satisfied with what has happened on the field which allowed us to finish the round-robin matches unbeaten. There have been a lot of satisfactory things that happened off the field which allowed us to be successful on the field but we still have big challenges ahead. We knew it would be an introduction for us in the Shield and a year to settle the new systems and structures.’
When the two teams met earlier in the season, Wits came out on top, beating Impi 56-13 when the two teams squared off in Pietermaritzburg. But finals are a different kettle of fish, with a different intensity and a different atmosphere and with the prize of being crowned champions on the line, it’s sure to be a tough battle.
Photo credit: Gerhard Duraan/SASPA