DESPITE losing several key players from last year’s lineup, NMMU Madibaz are fired up for hockey’s Varsity Cup competition, which kicks off at Wits University in Johannesburg tomorrow.
And making the opening round of fixtures even more fascinating is that NMMU, the EP champions, and Rhodes will meet in a televised Eastern Cape derby on Monday at 5pm.
Although NMMU have had the edge on the Rhodians in recent years, the Grahamstown students will be fully motivated to show what they can do and it should provide an enthralling finale to the opening weekend.
After the women’s competition last year, it is the turn of the men to taste the Varsity Cup experience and Madibaz coach Cheslyn Gie said yesterday they were geared up for an interesting competition, and some tough challenges in the opening round.
The Varsity Sports programme, now in its second year, has brought the excitement of United States college sports to an enthusiastic and receptive South African sporting public.
After much success last year, the participating universities in the Varsity Sports programme will again compete across six sporting codes this year. The men’s hockey will be taking place at four venues from tomorrow, ending off with the semifinals and finals at the University of Johannesburg on May 19. Venues at Wits University and Stellenbosch will also be used.
The men’s hockey will be followed by the soccer programme (July 21-September 15), netball (September 15-October 20), and rugby sevens and beach volleyball from November 28-30.
The hockey programme will feature some innovative ideas to add excitement and a sense of unpredictability.
Matches will consist of three chukkas of 20 minutes and the first four minutes of the second and third chukkas will comprise a power play. In this period, one of the sides will lose two players so it will be nine against 11 for four minutes.
A toss before the match will allow the captains to decide which chukka they want to use for the power play.
Despite losing a strong nucleus of players, Gie said the class of 2014 were excited about the challenge.
“We have a youngish side but the guys have lots of potential and they are very keen to show what they can do. It’s an exciting competition for all the varsities and the competition at this level is very strong so we know things are going to be tough.
“But it’s great for hockey and the players to have this sort of exposure and our guys are very excited about the challenge ahead.”
Before Monday’s clash with Rhodes, the Madibaz will face Free State University tomorrow and Wits on Sunday.
Rhodes coach Greg van Molendorff had a similar view and said it was a chance for the Grahamstown side to show their potential.
“We may be a little out of our depth, but we are really working hard to turn around the image of Rhodes sport and this a chance to show what we can do,” he said.
“We know there are some tough matches ahead, but the guys have been working hard since January 10 and are looking forward to the challenge.”
Rhodes open tomorrow against UJ and take on UCT on Sunday. – Neale Emslie