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Ambitious College target UKZN scalp

SPOTLIGHT: Newcomers Varsity College are gunning for a third-consecutive win in the Varsity Shield ahead of the ‘big one’ against Tuks in Round Four.

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Varsity College qualified for the Shield tournament after beating Rhodes University last August. Since then, Jeremy McLaren and his coaches have implemented a series of structures with the aim of taking the side to the next level.

The results suggest that Varsity College have enjoyed the best possible start to their Varsity Shield journey. After thumping the Tshwane University of Technology 27-0, they claimed a 35-16 win against the University of Fort Hare, the 2022 Varsity Shield champions.

McLaren told @rugby365com that the players are yet to reach their potential and that the team has a lot to address in the coming weeks.

The culture and belief within the side, however, has been highlighted as a reason for their immediate success in this tournament.

“The guys have done well in spite of the challenges,” McLaren said. “That attitude bodes well for the future, because the journey will only get tougher from here.

“The players are just phenomenal human beings. It’s not a side filled with superstars, but rather a team that plays for one another.

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“We’ve built this culture over a two-year period. We started to see some results last year in the game against Rhodes. There are aspects of our game that still require work, but those two recent wins are so important and reflect the character of these individuals.”

Expectations are usually tempered whenever a team is promoted to the next level. Specific games are targeted and modest season goals are set.

Yet here we are, two games into the Varsity Shield, with newcomers Varsity College sitting in second place with a maximum haul of 10 log points.

If Varsity College secure another win against the University of KwaZulu-Natal, they will strengthen their position in the standings, and travel to Pretoria the following week with the opportunity to slay Tuks, one of the giants of university rugby.

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“We had a team meeting the other day, and I told the players that they’ve laid the foundation with those two wins. The time has come, though, to build the house,” McLaren said.

“We targeted the two home games against TUT and UFH, as well as the match against UKZN, which won’t involve that much travel – but we’re really building up to the big one against Tuks in Pretoria. That will be a great test for us.

“There’s a lot of belief within this team. We have the pack to take on Tuks, and we believe that we can go up there and make a statement. All the pressure is on Tuks at the moment, who are trying to get back into the Cup [after being relegated at the end of the 2023 campaign].”

That’s not to say that the Durban-based Varsity College are taking UKZN lightly. The Durban derby will be staged at Howard College Stadium at 15.00 on Friday – and will be broadcast live on SuperSport.

“It’s a televised game, and as we’ve seen in the past, some players occasionally try and do a bit too much when they know that a bigger audience is watching,” McLaren said.

“I’ve noticed that in a few televised schools matches, where players lose their structure because they are trying so hard to impress. That’s why I say that we’re not focusing too much on UKZN, but on our own processes. It’s a big game, and it would be massive for Varsity College if we could pull off a win.

“I see that UKZN [who lost 0-30 to the Madibaz last week] rested a few of their players for the previous game to ensure that they would be fresh for us. It’s fair to say that we’ll have a score to settle this Friday.”

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