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Cup-bound Tuks stay hungry for silverware

VARSITY SHIELD PREVIEW: Tuks are determined to finish their stint in the Varsity Shield with a title as well as a perfect record.

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Tuks beat the Madibaz last Friday to finish the league phase unbeaten, and to clinch first place in the Shield standings.

With that result, they have secured home advantage for the Shield semifinal against WSU, and for a potential Final thereafter.

Most importantly, Tuks have earned an automatic promotion to next season’s Varsity Cup.

It’s been a challenging 12-month period for the Pretoria-based side.

After winning back-to-back Varsity Cup titles in 2021 and 2022, they finished dead last in the 2023 tournament and were relegated to the Shield for the first time.

At the start of the 2024 campaign, coach Dewey Swartbooi spoke about the team’s quest to regain Varsity Cup status, as well as respect.

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Seven games later, and Tuks have realised that goal.

“Madibaz coach David Manuel and I were chatting about this after the last match,” Swartbooi told @rugby365com.

“Once you’ve been relegated, it’s very hard to get promoted right away. The Madibaz were relegated after the 2022 Varsity Cup, and are still struggling to get back.

“The Shield is very different to the Cup. In some ways, it’s harder,” the Tuks coach added.

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“I don’t think that the players realised that the gap between the two tournaments would be this big. The infrastructure is not the same in the Shield. You have to adapt.”

In spite of those challenges, Tuks have dominated all opponents – and their stats make for compelling reading.

The 66-24 victory against the Madibaz marked their seventh consecutive bonus-point win in 2024.

The Tuks attack has scored 50 or more points on five occasions, while the defence has conceded more than 20 points in just two fixtures.

Swartbooi’s charges have been particularly dominant at home – where they’ve averaged 71 points scored and 16 points conceded.

Spare a thought for their next opponents WSU, who qualified for the Shield play-offs after winning just three of their seven league matches.

Tuks won 40-17 when these teams last met in the third round. Now that the Pretoria juggernaut has gathered some momentum, and returned to the highveld, they may well put their Eastern Cape
counterparts to the sword.

“Getting promoted was a priority, but now that we’ve ticked that box, we want to push on,” said Swartbooi.

“If you speak to any player, they’ll tell you that silverware is their goal. The job is far from done, and we won’t underestimate WSU this Friday.”

WSU may take heart from the fact that they were reasonably competitive in the previous encounter, and ‘only’ lost by 23 points. Tuks’ other opponents copped worse beatings.

Clearly Tuks have been operating at a higher level of intensity, and the quality of the recent performances – rather than the one-sided scorelines – indicate they are ready to compete in the
premier division once more.

“We said from the outset that we would keep training and playing as if we were competing against Varsity Cup teams,” said Swartbooi.

“That’s no disrespect to the Shield. It was never a case of getting ahead of ourselves and expecting to get back to the Cup immediately. We were simply determined to train and play at the
highest possible standard.”

While the Shield playoffs remain the focus, Swartbooi believes that this group will continue to grow over the next 12 months.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we are automatically relegated or where we have to play a promotion-relegation match next season. In that respect, I think this experience has been a good one in terms of motivation.

“Ethan Burger, Kyle Cyster and a few others will be too old for the tournament next season. Other than those players, we should retain between 80 and 90 percent of our squad, and continue to build.”

The Madibaz will host tournament newcomers Varsity College in the first semifinal in Gqeberha on Friday. The Eastern Cape side will start the game as favourites.

After the knockouts, the Madibaz will face CUT – the seventh-placed Varsity Cup side – in a promotion-relegation match.

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