My mind goes back to the game I watched at Loftus on the weekend. Where we were sitting in the corner of the now-covered East stand I started pointing out people I knew from University to my Dad, by the time we left, I had seen 5 people I met at varsity.
Ok, 5 is not that much but bear in mind that we were in another city to where I study and also these 5 people were only in the near vicinity of where we were sitting, in all honesty there were probably more people at the game that I knew from varsity. This added fuel to my Dad’s insistence that everywhere we go, my sister and I know someone. This is probably something of a strange thing for him to see, as I have always been the quiet one in my family. As you would have guessed, a lot of this has to do with going to University and probably also a lot to do with spending 5 years in res where guys come from all over the country. And, in case you’re wondering, there is a point to all of this. Your varsity years are your formative years where you learn more about yourself and invariably make your lifelong friends and a lot of people meet their future spouses at varsity as well, so in short you get an academic education as well as social education at varsity and it goes a long way to shaping the rest of your life.
What has this got to do with rugby? Well, having a strong university in the Sharks region would firstly allow the younger Sharks players to play in the Varsity Cup which would obviously be a huge positive for the union. In a recent interview, Francois Pienaar said that he was waiting for a University in KZN to step up for Varsity cup inclusion. Looking around at the other “big 5″ unions, their academies have very close links with their big varsities. At the University of Johannesburg we (I study there) have the Rugby factory which is affiliated to UJ, on a recent trip to Bloemfontein I saw banners for their academy (no, their academy is not called Grey) with Free State University and the Central University of Technology emblems on the same banner which makes me assume they are affiliated. The Western Province academy has bought a former res in Stellenbosch which is the base of their academy and the Bulls academy has strong links to TUKS and their high performance centre. What about the Sharks academy? They are based at the ABSA Stadium and are not affiliated with a regional University.
While the rugby implications mean there is not a Varsity cup team for the Union, the young players may be missing out on the aspect of University life, which could mean talented players who came up through the Sharks schools ranks could be lost to a University affiliated with another Union.
Some might argue that there have never been strong rugby Universities in the KZN region but I would like to remind those Sharks fans with longer memories (or access to books about Natal rugby history) about how Ian McIntosh decided to strengthen the University of Natal to give the platform for younger players to develop. The benefits of this move in the late 80s were reaped when Craig Jamieson’s team went to Loftus and took the cup for which the home team had built a new cabinet for and forced them to cancel their victory celebration party (ah, those were the days) and Natal went on to become the Sharks and dominate South African rugby for at least the first half of that decade.
In short, affiliating the Sharks academy with a KZN university would not only benefit the union but also the young players development off the field.Tweet