On the 25th of March 2013, the NMMU Madibaz lost 16-15 to Maties in the Varsity Cup Semi-Final. Those who watched the game remarked on the quality of both sides, they saw tenacious defence, skilful attack and sheer bloody-mindedness from both the maroon and blue jerseys. However even the most one-eyed supporter would agree the NMMU were a cut above their Maties opponents that night, the Madibaz won every important aspect of the game except the final scoreline. It was a heroic end to an incredible campaign. Sport is not always fair, and the incredible effort from many people in and around the squad was not to be rewarded with a ticket for the final.
My first introduction to this NMMU squad was in 2012. I was invited by the NMMU coach Brent Janse Van Rensberg to spend 2 days during the pre-season to assist in developing a high performance culture in the team and to teach some core mental skills. I had met Brent a few years earlier when on assignment for the Investec International Rugby Academy and was looking forward to see what mental shape his squad was in during his second year at the club.
It was clear then, as it is now, that he recruited with an eye for players who have heart and determination and so assisting the team in creating their Dream Movie (the 30 second highlight movie of what the team would feel was a worthwhile reward for a season of extraordinary effort) was a fantastic experience. My mandate as a High Performance Coach is to push a team as far as it can go, and assist with the skills, conversation and processes on how to rapidly accelerate towards the team’s ambition. Even in 2012 the team spoke about winning the competition, a remarkably ambitious and exciting goal when you consider in 2011 they were losing by 30 points to the likes of Pukke, UCT, UP-Tuks and Maties, and in 2010 they lost 97-14 to UJ.
Later in 2012, the NMMU Madibaz pulled of their first historic win against the Shimla’s in Bloemfontein with a dramatic last minute converted try slotted by Bradley Kretzmann. Supersport called the result, “The biggest upset in Varsity Cup history.” And the boys from PE were just getting started. During 2012 they also beat defending champions UCT, and ended up narrowly missing out on a historic Semi-Final.
As the coach, management team and players reflected on 2012, they made some key decisions. They decided the reason that they didn’t achieve their goals was not because their goals were too ambitious or far-fetched. The reasons were more about, the time that it takes for a team to jump up categories and the lessons that only truly emerge when you fully engage in that process.
In fact the team was making good progress after an extraordinary amount of hard work, they just needed to continue what was working for a longer period of time, develop more unity as a team and to work smarter in one or two key areas.
As such they started their pre-season 5 long months before the 2013 competition started. The squad of 40 all committed to giving their best, knowing full well that only 23 could represent the Madibaz on any given Monday. Around half the squad from 2012 returned for the 2013 season, so from my point of view I could build on the experiences and skills already developed. I did the pre-season work again, this time for 3 days, and with more emphasis on 1-1 work – helping players move beyond their personal stumbling blocks. I was also invited to work with the team periodically throughout the campaign and so it was fantastic to get some continuity going, catch the lessons early and watch the growth of the squad as we applied our high performance processes.
This truly has been a team effort, from the Coach Brent, to Assistant Coach Justin Peach, Biokineticist Andre Goosen, Conditioning Ryan Le Roux, Manager Nico Koen, Video Analyst Lance Salter and the various physios that have assisted during the year. The player leadership of Roy Godfrey and Jarred Buys was ably assisted by senior team-mates and the rest of the committed squad to take NMMU to new levels. Behind the scenes, the support of the University and the girlfriends and wives of the players have been extraordinary, with Liezel Janse Van Rensberg in particular doing some great work on social media and supporting her husband, the coach whose drive and vision was the catalyst to NMMU’s rise.
In 2013 the NMMU Madibaz made history by drawing with UCT at UCT, beating Shimlas, UJ and defending champions UP-Tuks to dramatically reach the semi-final . NMMU finished tied on points difference with NWC-Pukke however due to a positive 2 (scoring) points difference over NWC-Pukke over the season they got the last semi-final slot. NMMU ended up with the best defensive record in the competition, and anyone who watched them in 2013 remarked on the wall-like defence, the never-say- die attitude, team spirit and sheer determination throughout the side. As a group we had a mantra: Vibe + Patience =Points, and when we played our best rugby, that formula summed it up perfectly.
When developing the meaning behind the campaign for this team, this year (again) some remarkable comments and thoughts come from the squad. The squad believed that what made this team so special was that they were a Band of Brothers who would do whatever it takes for their team-mates, their team and their university. Cliché’s in sport are many, however as the team developed and learnt the tough lessons that needed to be learnt to rise above under-achievement they grew as men and as a team, the bond was real, powerful and I strongly suspect, life-long.
It would not be fitting to these men to point towards missed kicks, refereeing interpretations, weather or any other excuse for not winning, as on the night we fell one point short, and as sports men we will take in on the chin, learn all the important lessons on offer, and grow and come back stronger. I don’t think that ever before has a team made such an impression in this competition without winning it and that will have to be enough for the Madibaz of 2013.
Madibaz, you are a credit to your team-mates, families and university, and it has been an honour to work with you. I look forward to seeing what you do next, and to see the talent in this side get a chance to bring their unique style of playing rugby to a bigger stage.