2021 FNB Varsity Cup preview – From the coaches’ mouths (Part 2)

FNB Varsity Cup

The FNB Varsity Cup head coaches look ahead to this year’s unique campaign in Tshwane, which kicks off on 4 April.

FNB MADIBAZ

Last year (FNB Varsity Shield) – Played: 4, Won: 3, Lost: 1
Best FNB Varsity Cup finish – 4th on log (2013, 2014)

Head coach André Tredoux on …

Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign
“Our new coaching staff watched last year’s Varsity Shield games on video to access strengths and weaknesses. There was a lot of really good stuff that we can build on going into the Varsity Cup.”

Expectations for 2021
“Our guys are really keen to get back onto the field having not played rugby for a year. It is what they love doing, so they are excited to get going and make the step up from the Varsity Shield to the Varsity Cup. We’ve had to look hard at our fitness levels and the boys have worked really hard. We’re South Africans, so we want to win, but we also have realistic expectations. We want to be as competitive as possible in this year’s competition.”

Their squad
“We have lost a few players from last season, including [fullback] Luvo Claassen, who is currently playing for the Eastern Province Elephants. Our captain for this season is Luyolo Dapula, who was with the Southern Kings. He is a strapping 1.92m lock who can also play blindside flank, so he’s a great addition for us. [Centre] Aya Oliphant and [hooker] Temba Boltina will also be part of the leadership group.”

FNB UCT IKEYS

Last year – Played: 6, Won: 3, Drew: 2, Lost: 1
Best FNB Varsity Cup finish – Champions (2011, 2014)

Head coach Tom Dawson-Squibb on … 

Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign
“We thoroughly enjoyed last year’s campaign, which was the first for me and this UCT coaching group. We came into it with three main goals. We wanted to up our competitiveness and intensity through the way we train and work. I wanted to unshackle our players a bit and let them play with freedom, which is very much in the DNA of UCT rugby. And I wanted to get a really tight management group that could enjoy and challenge each other. I think we achieved those goals. We didn’t get close to our potential as a rugby team, though, and learned some lessons around the fact you must never forget the basics. You’ve got to have a solid set-piece and defence that turns up every game, and an organised kicking game. At times, we just took our eye off the ball when it came to those basics.”

Expectations for 2021
“Tuks and Maties are always favourites in the Varsity Cup, as the two strong, well-resourced universities. However, I think you’re disingenuous as a coach if you don’t talk about trying to win a competition in which you’re playing. My expectations are that we must compete to win, while ensuring that our rugby programme makes players better. I want guys to sit on their stoep when they are 70 having a brandy and coke, or sparkling water, and look back and say, “Those were some of the most incredible times of my life”. We want to win every game and win the trophy, but if we lose to a team that is better than us, then so be it.”

Their squad
“When the Stormers played that internal match between the Dassies and Penguins last September, I did a count – and there were 15 players who were eligible for Maties’ 2021 Varsity Cup squad and just one for UCT. We’ve lost some really big players in our pack, including [flanks] Nama Xaba, Busanda Mabena and [lock] Dave Meihuizen, and a substantial number of backs, especially outside backs. So we’ve moved one of our scrumhalves, Liam Kloosman, to wing, and will bring through a couple of other outside backs this season. [Centre] Evardi Boshoff has joined us from NWU. He’s a really exciting, highly skilful player with a big career ahead of him. So we have an exciting, if not star-studded, group of players. Last year, [flanks] Liam Greenhalgh and Niel Otto were co-captains. This year, Liam will captain the team and have a strong leadership group around him.”

FNB MATIES

Last year – Played: 5, Won: 5
Best FNB Varsity Cup finish – Champions (2008, 2009, 2010, 2018, 2019)

Head coach Drikus Hancke on …

Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign
“I was really proud of the players for winning all five matches last year. But we have a learning culture and there were a lot of lessons to take from those matches. Some of the guys who will play again this year would have gained some valuable experience and, of course, everyone is hungry to play rugby again. Like everyone, we feel something was taken away from us last year.”

Expectations for 2021
“I think this year’s Varsity Cup will be the most tightly contested in a while. There are a lot of good teams who will be well prepared. It will be weird not to have fans at the games, but we know they will be watching on TV. We are aiming to win the tournament, but want to take it match by match and keep improving as the tournament progresses.”

Their squad
"A lot of our Young Guns [U20 players] from last year have come through, but we also have a lot of senior guys from last year who will play again in 2021. Our captain for this year’s campaign, [centre] David Brits, is very experienced and he and the other senior players have helped the youngsters during pre-season.”

FNB UFS-SHIMLAS

Last year – Played: 6, Won: 1, Lost: 5
Best FNB Varsity Cup finish – Champions (2015)

Head coach Pote Human on …

Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign
“The set-piece was a concern last year, but we have worked very hard on that going into this year’s Varsity Cup. Not many of the guys who played for Shimlas last year are still here.”

Expectations for 2021
“The guys have worked really hard during pre-season and are hungry to play rugby again. It’s not going to be easy to play three games in quick succession in a bubble, and in our last bubble, we play both Tuks and Maties. All the teams will have the same challenge, though, and I think those that suffer the least injuries will do well.”  

Their squad
“We have a young squad, many of whom have previously played for our Young Guns team and the Free State U21 team. There is a lot of talent here and I’m really excited to see what they can do in the Varsity Cup. With most of the games being televised, they can make a name for themselves.”

FNB UWC

Last year – Played: 5, Won: 1, Lost: 4
Best FNB Varsity Cup finish – 9th on log (2019)

Head coach Paul Treu on …

Last year’s Covid-shortened campaign
“Lionel Langenhoven took over from Chester [Williams] last year under very difficult circumstances [as interim head coach] and he remains part of our coaching team as scrum coach. Lionel had a lot to deal with and unfortunately, the results didn’t go their way, although they did beat Shimlas in Bloemfontein. We’ve since implemented a new system, culture, standards and high-performance programme at UWC.” 

Expectations for 2021
“Our immediate goal is to stay in the Varsity Cup, as the bottom two teams on the combined 2021-2022 log will be relegated to the Varsity Shield. Our obvious concern is the tight five as UWC have traditionally been targeted at the set-piece by other universities. It’s something we have worked on but it won’t be resolved in this campaign, we’re taking a long-term approach to bolstering our tight five. We have done as much as we can from coaching and scientific perspectives to prepare the players for this campaign. Player recovery will be important during the tournament and you don’t want to overload players with too much detail in between games.”

Their squad
“We are very fortunate to have a good group of senior players, including [centre] Lyle Hendricks, [lock] Pieter-Steyl Swanepoel, [hooker] Jacques van Zyl, [prop] Justin Theys and [wing] Brandon de Kock. We also have two 19-year-old Western Province-contracted players who will start studying at UWC this year, [hooker] Lukhanyo Vokozela and [prop] Lamla Nunu. We’d like to get more youngsters like them to come to UWC so we can build a sustainable system and programme.”