"If" is a word that will haunt FNB UP-Tuks for some time as their chance of retaining the Varsity Cup title ended on Monday with a 22-26 loss against FNB NWU Eagles in Pretoria.
It was their fourth successive loss. The last time this happened in the Varsity Cup was in 2018 and they eventually went on to lose five games in a row. The cruel reality is that it could happen again on Monday as the defending champions travel to Stellenbosch to take on arch-nemesis FNB Maties, currently third on the log.
Maties are also not on top of their game this season. The big difference is that they still do win games. More importantly, they don't give up. They proved this by beating FNB UCT Ikeys 21-19, NWU 31-28 and FNB Wits 56-54. They had to come from behind to win in all three games.
In contrast, Tuks lost 25-25 against FNB UFS Shimlas, 39-41 against FNB CUT, and 22-26 against NWU. Their biggest defeat was 19-42 against Ikeys. For Tuks to avoid a fifth defeat, they must come up with something extraordinary on Monday against Maties.
The word "if" is probably haunting the Tuks players and coaches at the moment. Because "if" the players kept control of the ball. "If" vital tackles were not missed. "If" Tuks didn’t need to play catchup in each game, some results could have been different.
Captain Lincoln Daniels’ comments after the defeat against the Eagles probably summed it up the best.
"There are no words to describe how we feel as a team. Our efforts are not reflected on the scoreboard. If I am honest, we, as players, are to blame.”
Things are not going to get any easier for Tuks. After Maties, they got to play Wits away. The Wits team is currently fourth on the log. So they have a lot to play for.
Tuks's last game is at home against UJ. It is a game Tuks ought to win on paper, as UJ is also battling in this year’s Varsity Cup campaign with only one victory.
There is a lot at stake. The team ending bottom of the Varsity Cup log will automatically be relegated to the Varsity Shield, while the team finishing top of the Varsity Shield log will automatically be promoted to the Varsity Cup.