This year, a fresh-faced Rhodes University 1st XV, newly named the Rhodes Stallions, took part in what was their second campaign of the Varsity Shield but suffered another dreadful season ending bottom of the log again.
New season brings new opportunities
Rhodes was optimistic of the new season as they wrung the changes which included a new captain in Joshua parsons as well as a new coach, with the experienced Qondani ‘Carlos’ Katywa coming on board.
The Stallions opened their season against a strong TUT outfit that boasted a lot of experience and physicality compared to a Rhodes team that had a handful of players who had experienced Varsity Shield rugby.
It was tough game for the Stallions who went down 26-7 in front of a big home crowd as many students had gathered with hope of the news season bringing newfound success.
It was then a local Eastern Cape derby as the Stallions travelled to the Buffalo City Stadium in East London to take on WSU in a match that was televised live on SuperSport which saw WSU run in 47 points with Rhodes managing 16.
Things only got worse for the Stallions as the failed to register a single victory in the competition which saw them finish bottom of the table with talks of relegation still up in the air.
Why Rhodes is so out of its depth?
The question on everyone’s mind, especially those that turned up to watch every week and saw the performances, is why are the Rhodes Stallions so far behind the rest of the teams in the rest of the competition?
The answer is quite simple and that is because it is a situation that runs across all sporting codes at the university.
The reason that Rhodes cannot hope to compete at this level is that the University has never held sport as a major priority and does not plan on changing this attitude any time soon.
Until Rhodes as an institution decides it wants to take sports seriously, they cannot hope to compete at any significant level as there is simply no resources available required to do so.
Rhodes has always held itself high as an academically inclined institution. As a result, the admission procedure to gain a place at the University is focused solely on academics.
This means that for any young and talented rugby player, if they cannot gain a place based on their academics, they will not be able to attend the University and therefore never play for the Rhodes Stallions.
Rhodes university currently only awards two sporting bursaries of which one is a rugby bursary. This is a stark comparison to other university’s where multiple scholarships and bursaries are awarded for just rugby alone, let alone other sporting codes.
What puts the competition ahead?
Last year I wrote an article about a similar situation and described the situation that Rhodes finds itself as one where varsity meets rugby.
What I meant by this is that lots of the players playing in the other teams are coming out of rugby academy’s or have been specifically scouted by the universities to play rugby for the team.
Last year, UFH had a team sheet with no less than 13 first year students of which the youngest was 21-years-old and included Eastern Province Kings outside centre Somila Jho.
It is therefore not surprising when one looks at the quality of player playing for the other teams, why Rhodes University is struggling to match them when it is a team composed of players who probably played at school and just wanted to keep playing while studying.
What Rhodes needs to do
If Rhodes has any genuine hope of competing for the Varsity Shield title, there needs to be a shift in mentality from the University itself which needs to materialise in a pragmatic approach towards the sport.
Prospective players need to be scouted before university and more support must be provided for the club to create a space that is attractive to young up and coming players.
A higher standard of rugby is needed to be played throughout the year and so Rhodes should investigate the possibility of possible tours or matches around the country against the bigger universities so that they get used to playing at that level.
Unfortunately, this is not an overnight fix and will take several years before any efforts bear meaningful fruition however, there is no reason that with the right infrastructure and approach, Rhodes cannot feature in a national level in this competition.