Blues locked and loaded for Varsity Shield mission possible

Read time: 3 mins

Fort Hare speedster Okuhle Pangwa will be looking to run rings around the UKZN defence in Alice tonight. 

 

The task is clear – win the last two games and a spot in next season’s FNB Varsity Shield is all but guaranteed.

That is the equation for a rejuvenated University of Fort Hare ahead of tonight’s crucial clash against UKZN in Alice.

Though the Blues are currently bottom of the eight-team log, a victory against their seventh-placed opponents would see the teams changing position with a week of the competition to go.

Fort Hare’s final game is against TUT in Pretoria next Friday. The Gauteng side lie sixth but only by virtue of having a better points difference than UKZN.

The difficulty for the Tshwane students is that they come up against a rampant Tuks side who have brushed aside all comers in their quest to return to the top-tier Varsity Cup in 2025.

According to Sive Maxham, who has been caretaker coach for most of the season, UFH can conceivably even end fifth on the table if other results go their way.

While under no illusions that they will need to fire on all cylinders in their last two games, the players are very aware of what needs to be done.

A decision to include former players, including some who won the Varsity Shield with the Blues in 2022, at their recent training sessions had paid off, Maxham said.

“[Since their arrival] the mood in the camp has changed. These guys know what it means to play for the Blues and win.”

Fort Hare have a very young team this year and there is no doubt that the season has been something of a learning curve.

There have been times when their inexperience at Varsity Shield level has shown, yet there have also been highs. Their victory against CPUT, for example, was one for the ages.

The Capetonians are always a tough nut to crack but a first-half onslaught by the Blues was enough to earn them their first victory of the campaign.

Their season has also unearthed stars like left-wing Okuhle Pangwa, whose electrifying pace has left more than a few defences at sixes and sevens.

In the Blues’ previous match, against WSU in Mdantsane, he proved a real menace to their opponents’ back three.

Maxham said Pangwa had been a revelation since making his Shield debut this season.

“He has been a standout player for us in the competition.

“He has been with us since last year even though he did not play in the Shield in 2023. He has really grown into the system since then.”

While UKZN are also in the fight to avoid the relegation playoff match against the team who finishes top of the pops in the University Sport South Africa championships later in the year, the Blues are not taking them lightly.

They were not the same team who started the competition poorly, Maxham said.

“We are going into this game knowing it’s going to be a fight.

“We owe a good performance to everyone. The boys know that.”