One sidestep away from the big leagues

Uni-Mil scrumhalf Lee Wildschut drives to secure a loose ball during his side's friendly with Brackenfell RFC.

From languishing in the Western Province Premier League B a few short years ago to now being on the verge of cracking the nod for the province’s highest league, the turn around at Union-Milnerton RFC has been dramatic and hard-earned.

The second half of the season is due to kick off and the Uni-Mil boys have made good use of the break to sharpen their skills but a mid-season friendly with Super League A surprise package, Brackenfell RFC, was a sharp reminder for the Millies boys that although they have been performing well in their own league, the step up to the top flight is a big one and they will need to ensure a continued grind as they make the move.

However, there is still the last haul of the season to contest, and, as with any sport, life can be fickle so they will need to first focus on getting the wins and securing a top-end finish.

Coach Isma-eel Dollie, who has had his hands full after being selected as the WP Emerging squad’s backline coach, knows that his boys have what it takes to finally realise the SLA dream they set for themselves all those years ago.

“I am very proud of the hard work and the belief the club and players have shown. We have focused on developing a winning culture and making the players accountable for their performances and this has paid off for us.

“We had a good pre-season preparation and it has been a real team effort. After getting a few good wins the confidence grew but we were brought down to earth a few weeks ago with our first loss of the season against Bellville Tech. I think that really energised and refocused the boys in not taking any game lightly. They know they have to bring their A-game every week.

“With just five games left in our season, we know the job is far from done. The league has been very tight and the top five teams all have a chance to claim league honours. However, I feel that we control our own destiny,” he said.

With a six-week break between matches, keeping the players in form was always going to be a challenge. The coaching staff decided to give them two weeks of rest and jammed the other four weeks full of training, a friendly with the Brakke, a contact session with Northerns-Northlink College (NNK) and even went as far as roping their many hands in to help with club maintenance.

“As part of our team building efforts we got the guys down to help with things like painting and the cleaning of equipment, taking pride in their club. Rugby-wise we knew that both us and Brackenfell had long breaks and with the leagues starting up again, would need some game time.

“With a final score of 24-5 in Brackenfell’s favour, this was a reality check for the players, coaches and management alike as there is a massive difference between SLB and SLA and we have a long way to go if we want to be successful in that league.

“Some of the things we will need to look at will be our player depth and an influx of quality coaching and sponsorship. This has always been our goal, moving up to the top and when you consider we were on the brink of relegation into the zonal leagues four years ago, to be sitting in this position now is quite an achievement,” he said.

Importantly, a big part of the Uni-Mil drive has been that they are not solely entrenched with their efforts on the field, but also in giving back to the community they find themselves surrounded by. This has been a hallmark of Dollie’s five-year tenure at the club, which also makes him Uni-Mil’s longest-standing coach.

“One of our objectives is to serve our community by providing a platform of financial and social support wherever we can and providing structured activity through rugby. We have a strong affiliation to the community of Dunoon and every year we identify kids that have an interest in rugby and bring them into the fold.

“They take part in various activities, from learning the game, to similar efforts that our players undertake such as club maintenance and membership drives. These young men and women form an integral part of the club and we try to involve them with strategic planning and decision making as well,” said Dollie.

Uni-Mil get their final rounds of matches underway next week, when they face Goodwood RFC at their Theo Marais Park homeground on Saturday July 30.