Maties consider themselves the underdogs
They are three-time winners of the competition but the Maties are happy to carry the tag of underdog into Monday night’s Varsity Cup final in Pretoria.
Coach Chean Roux said before his team’s departure from Cape Town that although his men had ended the league phase of the season unbeaten and had beaten their opponents, Tukkies, when the sides met earlier in the competition, the fact that the game was being played on Pretoria University’s home ground meant they would be the team under pressure.
“I don’t really concern myself with the whole favourite/underdog thing before a game, but Tukkies finished top of the log, it is their second consecutive final, and you should be expected to win when you host a final,” said Roux.
“We did beat Tukkies when we played them a few weeks ago, but that was on our home ground in Stellenbosch. We have enormous support when we play at Danie Craven Stadium, and it is very different when we play at home. I think it is the case in the competition generally -- if you look at the results this year you will notice that there are not many teams that have scored big away wins.”
There is another factor that comes into play, with Roux saying that while Stellenbosch were an out and out university team, Tukkies are very much a Bulls set-up, with the bulk of the Tukkies players contracted to the Blue Bulls and that union being quite open about how they are using Varsity Cup as a stepping stone.
“We don’t have contracted players. Our guys are just students, rugby is not their life, and if we lose the sun will still come up the next morning.”
However, while happy to live with the tag of underdog, Roux is by no means going to Pretoria lacking in confidence, and he is hopeful that the first half of their recent semifinal against University of Johannesburg, where they effectively wrapped up the contest before halftime, was an indication that his men are peaking at the right time.
“We started the season with a brand spanking new team and we applied things that we learned when we failed to make the final last season. This is our ninth game of the season and hopefully we have been building steadily through it. We put it together in the last 20 to 30 minutes of our final league game against UJ, where we drew away from home, and then in the first 40 minutes of the semifinal against them.
“We didn’t finish the game against UJ so well, but then maybe it was good that we ended that game not taking anything for granted. The players know that this is a final and they are going to have to perform to win.”
Roux said winning the Varsity Cup was the pinnacle of what a club player could achieve, and that after that it was natural for them to want to conquer new frontiers. So he is resigned to the fact that not many of the current players will be back next year.
“As it is we played a final two years ago and yet I think only one player in our current team, Donald Stevens, has played in a final before. That shows what a turn-over of players there is. The UCT coach Kevin Foote discovered this year what can happen when the system you put in place is working -- you lose the players who help you to become successful.
“But that is what Varsity Cup is all about. The challenge is to keep bringing younger guys through. Sometimes you end up with a good harvest of players, sometimes you have a not so good harvest. But the key is that you expose players to this level and give the good ones a chance of using it as a stepping stone to bigger things.”
Turning to the challenge posed by Tukkies, Roux said that he was preparing his players the same way that Stormers coach Allister Coetzee would his players when building up to a game against the Bulls.
“Their strengths are the same as the Bulls -- they have a strong kicking game and a strong pack and our challenge will revolve around preventing them from getting momentum and countering their aerial bombardment. We have been working on our execution as that will be all-important, as it always is in a final,” said Roux.
If the Maties, who are the only unbeaten team in the competition up to this point, lose on Monday night it will be the first time in the history of the competition that the Varsity Cup title has been won by a team from outside of the Western Cape.