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Gritty Madibaz to keep pressure on Tuks

ROUND FIVE PREVIEW: The Madibaz will have the opportunity to extend their winning run and strengthen their position in the Varsity Shield standings when they battle TUT on Friday.

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Tuks thrashed Varsity College 75-21 last week to consolidate their lead at the top of the Varsity Shield log.

Meanwhile, the Madibaz claimed a 29-18 win over WSU, and moved up to second place in the standings.

After four rounds, Tuks and the Madibaz are the only unbeaten teams in the tournament.

Both are expected to extend their winning runs when they face UKZN (fifth in the standings) and TUT (sixth) this Friday.

Varsity Shield standings after four rounds

Madibaz coach David Manuel reflected on the external factors that have impacted the campaign, and praised the players for overcoming significant challenges to bank four wins and 19 out of a possible log points.

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“When you look at those numbers, you have to say it’s been a pretty positive experience,” Manuel told @rugby365com.

“We’re very positive about where we are right now.

“There’s more that should be read into the results when you consider how many disruptions there have been – with the university strikes at NMU and having to move to alternate venues for matches.

“The players have shown terrific character to prevail, despite the challenging circumstances.”

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That character will be put to the test over the next three weeks, as the Madibaz attempt to bank three more wins to secure home advantage for the playoffs. Thereafter, they will be gunning for promotion to the Varsity Cup.

The Madibaz were relegated from the top flight at the end of the 2022 tournament. Their hopes of regaining their Varsity Cup status were dashed last year, after they finished second in the Varsity Shield and then lost to CUT in the ensuing promotion-relegation playoff.

This year, the Madibaz are leaving nothing to chance. They’re pushing for a top-place finish in the Varsity Shield, and automatic promotion to the Cup.

“We have three games left, starting with TUT this Friday,” said Manuel.

“They will be hurting after their 41-5 loss to UKZN, so we need to be on our guard. I think they’re one of the dark horses of this tournament.

“We had a coaches meeting earlier this week, where we discussed how we’re going to manage the individuals and the collective over the next three matches.

“I was impressed by how our players dealt with the physicality of WSU, but there are a lot of bruised bodies as a result of that game.

“We have to get up for TUT – and beyond that, two of the toughest teams in Varsity College and Tuks.”

The penultimate league game against Varsity College may well determine which of the two sides finish the league in second place.

Hosting a semifinal will increase the respective teams’ chances of advancing to the decider.

The winner of the Varsity Shield will earn automatic promotion to the Varsity Cup, while the runners-up will face the seventh-placed Cup side in a promotion-relegation playoff.

Tuks, who were relegated from the top flight last season, remain the favourites to win the Shield and regain their Cup status. They have claimed four bonus-point wins to date, and boast a points difference of 164 – more than twice that of the second-placed Madibaz.

At this stage, it appears as if the Madibaz and Varsity College will battle it out for that second spot. Manuel, however, has greater ambitions.

“It’s a tough road, but if all goes well, we may end up beating Tuks to earn promotion. That is my fantasy at the moment,” he said.

“Any coach will tell you that earning promotion via the playoff is an extremely tough pathway. To go from playing Varsity Shield the whole season to suddenly playing against a Varsity Cup side – it’s a tough ask, as Varsity Cup sides compete at a different level of speed and intensity.

“We experienced that last year, when we played CUT in the promotion-relegation game and lost.

“The difference between the two levels was evident in that fixture.

“If you have the option to take the first ship up to the Varsity Cup, you take it – and right now that option is still within our reach.”

@rugby365com

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