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Madibaz skipper wants to engineer cohesion for Varsity Shield

Even though the buck stops with Madibaz rugby captain Leon van der Merwe, he will rely on widespread support from his teammates when they launch their FNB Varsity Shield campaign later this month.

The Nelson Mandela University outfit are gearing up for a tough opener against Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, the team who defeated them in the semifinals of the 2023 tournament.

In announcing the captain for the season, Madibaz head coach David Manuel said, “Van der Merwe is my samurai”, and it was clear the eighth man would have a big role to play.

The 22-year-old is familiar with the responsibility after stepping in for the incumbent, Arnouw Nel, when he was ruled out of the competition due to a long-term injury.

Van der Merwe said he wanted to engineer a situation where the whole team understood that they would have to roll out their match strategy as one to have any chance of success.

“Being captain is both an honour and a responsibility,” Van der Merwe, who is doing his Master’s in human movement science, said.

“The position involves leading by example and being able to motivate the team to strive for success.”

He said his leadership philosophy emphasised communication within the team as well as with the coaching staff, “plus a lot of hard work”.

The emphasis, therefore, would be on what Van der Merwe called “a strong leadership providing input on decision-making”, without shirking his own responsibilities.

“I believe in empowering others and making decisions that benefit the team but I also understand that I’m the person who needs to make the final call.”

Van der Merwe, who grew up in Durbanville and matriculated from Paarl Gymnasium in the Western Cape, said the squad had an intensive build-up in January.

“We are really looking forward to the upcoming Varsity Shield season and are determined to show that our resilience and hard work will produce the required results.”

They expect many challenges as all the sides in the 2024 competition were capable of fighting for the title.

“We’ll have to bring our A game week in and week out,” the eighth man said.

The skipper added that the three tough warm-up fixtures against Walter Sisulu University, South Western Districts and Eastern Province last month had been invaluable in assessing their progress.

“Some really good lessons were learnt in these games and they gave us a clear indication of what works for us as a team and what we need to work on to keep improving.”

As the Varsity Shield loomed, Van der Merwe had a final message for Madibaz fans, who he once referred to as “our 16th player”.

“They have always been incredible and their support means everything to us. As we gear up for this season, we’re counting on their cheers and energy to fuel our determination on the field.”

He asked supporters to join them in striving for success together as their presence made all the difference.

“See you at the Madibaz Stadium!”

Main Image: Supplied

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