Give Rhodes a chance
As the Varsity Cup brand celebrated its 10th year since inception, there was a buzz surrounding Rhodes Rugby as they prepared for their first appearance in the seventh edition of the Varsity Shield.
Unfortunately, FNB Rhodes endured a dismal season, not winning a single game other than a default victory over CPUT due to their being found to have broken the player eligibility rules.
Rhodes finished bottom of the table and their lack of success was met without much forgiveness from the students and fans who failed to see their team win at Great Field.
But before we dismiss the team and label them a failure, I think it is important that we acknowledge the task Rhodes was faced with and how they got here.
Rhodes qualified last year when they lost to Walter Sisulu University in the University Sport South Africa C section finals in extra time.
This was the same WSU team who had a dominant start to the competition and are still title contenders, despite being penalised and having points deducted.
Rhodes then faced a campaign where they were the smallest University in the competition, a mere 8 000 students compared to the likes of TUT who boast more than 60 000 students, making the selection pool substantially larger.
Despite this, they came undone in the last four minutes against TUT in their first game. While they were eventually given the win against CPUT, when the match was played, Rhodes lost it literally on the final play of the game.
They might have suffered some heavy defeats against UWC and WSU, but as someone who watched all the home games, I think it would be unfair to say that Rhodes are completely out of their depth.
The biggest difference between Rhodes and others is the recruitment process - or rather the lack of it.
Rhodes, not being a sportsorientated university, was never going to go out and sudden- ly hand out bursaries to any promising high school youngster to beef up their team.
This is quite different to the likes of UFH who, when playing Rhodes, had no fewer than 13 ‘first years’ - the youngest of them being 21 and including the likes of Somila Jho, the centre with 13 caps for the senior EP Kings Currie Cup team.
What we witnessed this year was almost where varsity met rugby, in that Rhodes had a team of students playing rugby rather than some other teams who had rugby players enrolled as students.
Despite this, Rhodes still showed glimpses of what they can do and I have no doubt they will improve next year.
So until then, give them a chance as they continue making sports history at Rhodes.