FNB Rhodes had a tank full of energy and enthusiasm ahead of the new FNB Varsity Shield 2020 season, but a heart-wrenching, tight 3-7 loss to FNB TUT at The Great Field saw them sink into a familiar sight.
Virtually from the kick-off, the game started brightly for TUT as Rhodes felt the hit loss of their fullback, Bukhosi Mhlambiso, who was ambulanced off following a big hit. Soon after, the Vikings got off the mark after mounting pressure, scoring the opening try through flyhalf Maritz Mauritz, who converted to create what turned out to be the decisive score.
FNB Rhodes showed their intention to fight doggedly and with the strength and grit that so defines them in their Varsity Shield campaigns and got back on track with three points to be an unconverted try away from hunting down TUT. That, however, never materialised. Although FNB Rhodes had more than a multitude of chances to win the game, through counter-attacking rugby and surging forward on the sides through a powerful front row and speedy backline, FNB TUT remained stubborn in their pursuit to gain their third win in three seasons over FNB Rhodes, this time away from home.
For Rhodes there are positives to take away from the game, but the worry remains pertinent: if TUT are the closest in ability to FNB Rhodes, and it is a side they played with home support at the Great Field on a cool evening in Makhanda, how are they going to fair against the likes of FNB Madibaz and FNB UKZN - teams that challenge for Varsity Cup. More than that, how are they going to cope with away fixtures at teams such as FNB UFH?
Hostory shows that the last time out, in 2019, Rhodes pulled off a historic victory against the UFH side at their Davidson Stadium in Alice, and although a tough ask, they’d need to do it again.
Coach Carlos Katywa of Rhodes University has his sights set on the Stallions’ ability to pull off remarkable results against the likes of teams such as UFH, or at least hopes so, as he identifies this as being a gateway to climbing the table and racking up more wins for the season to come.
That fixture, of course, comes on Friday in the Eastern Cape Double Derby at Madibaz Stadium (which kick-starts FNB Varsity Shield's 10-year celebrations), so there's no time like the present...
Also, what Rhodes will rejoice and find hope in, is the fact that they are currently fourth thanks to their losing bonus point against TUT, with the teams below them having lost.