UNAM Rugby Club will start their Namibia Rugby Premier League (NRPL) title defence with a tricky home fixture against Western Suburbs on Saturday, 10 March.
The defending champions, who have won the league title a record equaling three consecutive seasons, will be out to make history by becoming the only team to win four consecutive titles, while Suburbs will be hoping to clinch their first league title since 2013.
UNAM coach, Johan Diergaardt, who is the most decorated coach in NRPL history, also led Suburbs to league glory in 2008.
Before that, he helped the Khomasdal based outfit gain promotion to the NRPL.
Speaking to the Windhoek Observer this week, Diergaardt said he is well aware of the possible threat posed by his former employers, a team for which he still has great respect.
The former national team coach said it is very important that UNAM starts the season with a win, although he admitted that his team was still rusty.
“Last Saturday, we played a friendly match against Trustco United in Gobabis and we won 24-17. I have taken note from the match against United that we are a bit rusty at this stage when it comes to the fitness level, but we are working on it before we play Suburbs.
“It will be a great challenge against Suburbs as we are expecting them to give us a big test. It is a derby game for us and we want to start off with a win,” Diergaardt said.
UNAM will start life without one of their key players, winger Lesley Klim, who signed up with English based club Doncaster Knights in the Rugby Football Union (RFU) championship last December.
Diergaardt downplayed Klim’s absence, saying that he has several other players who can provide cover for the winger.
“Klim only played like two matches last year due to his involvement with the Welwitschias in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, Currie Cup first division and the Gold Cup (Africa Cup) with the senior national team. Other players just need to step up because this is an opportunity for them to showcase their talents,” Diergaardt said.
The UNAM coach will try and outwit his protégé, Llewellyn Winkler, whom he coached in 2010 during the tour of Romania.
A former winger for the national team during his playing days, Winkler, who is now Suburbs coach, said that he respects his mentor, whom he rates highly as one of the best coaches, but that will not stop him from engineering a win for his team.
“To be honest I do not feel threatened by the match even though Diergaardt was my coach in Romania when we won the Nations Cup. He has lots of experience, but at the end of the day my team will be ready for the match because we are fully prepared. It will be a big challenge for us because we will come up against a top team,” Winkler said.
“If we want to get something out of this match, we just need to have good attitude and not lose the ball cheaply. We have a full squad to choose from with the exception of Allister Muller, who is in South Africa with his studies.”
Suburbs comprises of national team players such as Gino Wilson, Eugene Jantjies and Darryl de la Harpe.
Besides, UNAM, the other team to win three successive league titles was Wanderers in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Full NRPL fixtures, 10 March
Reho Falcon vs Rehoboth Rugb Rugby Club and Trustco United vs Wanderers.