The teams ran out onto a dry pitch on a hot and blustery Saturday afternoon. The sun was doing them no favours as it added an extra element to test the fitness of both sides. Fortunately for the players, the referees allowed water breaks in the middle of each half.
For Uni-Mil captain, Edward Theron, of Sunningdale, the knock-about with their new league rivals was the perfect measuring pole for his side a month and a half out from the start of regular league fixtures and he relished the opportunity to face off against a side that has been in his club’s shoes in recent years, gaining promotion to SLA.
“Our pre-season training has been going well so far. We have a new fitness and conditioning coach and the new drills he has brought to the club is like a breath of fresh air for the players. The sessions are built around strongman stations with fitness and conditioning brought in as well. I think the benefits of the training were evident in Saturday’s game.
“For us it was more of a hit-out match where we could take some contact against a good opposition and see where we stand,” he said.
“We got exactly what we thought we’d be in for and now we know that there is lots of room for improvement. The bar has been set and with every friendly match and training session we want to raise that bar even higher. There is a lot of belief in the club and that will stand us in good stead against the tough opposition we will be facing this season,” said Theron.
And tough opposition it will be indeed. It has been a long while since Uni-Mil has had to face off against the likes of the university sides and northern and southern titans like Durbanville, Hamilton or False Bay rugby clubs.
In the match against NTK at the weekend, the Red Devils seemed to have the upper hand for the most part, scoring the opening two tries of the match, putting the Uni-Mil defence under pressure and controlling the bulk of possession. However, Uni-Mil clawed their way back as the game progressed and the scores were tied at four tries a-piece. Of course, both sides are still in an adjustment phase as they settle their starting line-ups and shake off any holiday rust so it may not be quite a fair reflection of things to come.
“We know SLA is going to be a massive challenge and looking at previous seasons, the winners of SLB who get promoted to SLA often struggle to stay in the league. Our goal is to stay up there, compete, have fun and hopefully upset a few teams who will be looking for easy points against us. We said from the start that we don’t just want to be here to make up the numbers.
“Personally I am looking forward to playing some of the top teams, teams that are known as the best of the best but also facing off against teams we have always had a good relationship with like Brackenfell and NTK, who have been in the same situation as us and managed to pull it together to stay in the league.
“We have been fortunate to retain the services of the core of our coaching staff as well as added a few new faces. Most of the core group of players are still around, except for those that have maybe retired or moved out of the area. We have also gained a lot of new talent and some junior players have come through the ranks and we have some exciting new backline players that have joined us,” said Theron.
For head coach Isma-eel Dollie, when it comes to his role at the club it is business as usual but in other avenues he has taken on a new role with the professional players’ organisation, MyPlayers. As the national player relationship manager he will have his hands full dealing with players at all levels of the professional game but sees this as a blessing rather than a burden and has pointed out that his role as coach should carry on uninterrupted.
“My new role with MyPlayers will see me working working closely with players, representatives and the unions themselves. I’ve seen a lot during my time as a professional player and believe I can advise players to make the right choices in their own careers. Rugby is my passion and I love what I do.”I am fortunate to have a great support structure at the club. What we have built over the last few years is a new level of stability and consistency within our structures, both on a playing level and in management and I don’t see that being undone any time soon,” he said.