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Mountain of a task awaits College at Tuks

PREVIEW: David will hard pressed to live with Goliath when Varsity College tackle a rampant and undefeated Tuks side in the Varsity Shield Final this Friday.

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Two weeks ago, Tuks thrashed the Madibaz in the Final of the round of the league phase.

That result secured Tuks’ place at the top of the standings – and earned them a ticket to next season’s Varsity Cup.

Now Dewey Swartbooi’s charges have set their sights on the Varsity Shield title itself.

The numbers indicate why they will go into the Final as overwhelming favourites.

Over the past eight matches, Tuks have scored 50 or more points on six occasions. They thumped WSU 80-14 in the semifinal staged in Pretoria last week.

Another blowout is expected this Friday, when Tuks host Varsity College in the decider.

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The last time Varsity College travelled to the capital on March 15, Tuks romped to a 75-21 victory.

And yet, the Varsity Shield newcomers have shown why they should not be underestimated.

They have been extremely competitive in their first season at this level, winning five of their seven league matches and beating the Madibaz 24-20 in the semifinal staged in Port Elizabeth last week.

Can they go toe to toe with Tuks this Friday, and complete one of the biggest upsets in Varsity Shield history?

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It’s unlikely, but then this plucky group has exceeded all expectations over the past two months.

“We got a hiding the last time we were up in Pretoria, and afterwards, we had an honest and open chat,” coach Jeremy McLaren told @Rugby365com.

“I said to the guys that we needed to learn from that experience, because the chances were good that we’d meet Tuks again if we qualified for the play-offs.

“We were confident ahead of the league game against the Madibaz, but didn’t stick to our processes. Again, we spoke about learning from that loss, and it all came together in the semifinal against the same team.

“If I ever write a book one day, that game, that performance against the Madibaz in the semifinal, will be among the highlights.”

Recent results suggest that Varsity College deserve their place in the Final. They have come a long way, in spite of a lack of resources.

“I’ve said it before, there are no superstars here, just a bunch of normal guys who are united in a common cause,” McLaren stressed.

“It’s been an incredible journey, because the character of these players has allowed them to punch above their weight.

“We were honest with ourselves at the start of the season. When we got together for the first time, we hadn’t even done any conditioning. So we were on the back foot.

“We went into the campaign with the will to learn, and essentially to find out what we had in the group, and exactly what was needed for the future.

“Fortunately, the group possessed a lot of players with the will to fight. After that win against WSU, I started to think, okay, we have something going here.

“That semifinal win against the Madibaz was massive in terms of providing the guys with a psychological boost.

“At the same time, we are under no illusions that we are David in this Final scenario, and Tuks – with all their structures and resources – are Goliath.”

Swartbooi told @Rugby365com last week that Tuks have maintained their strength and conditioning standards since dropping down to the Shield competition.

This commitment has enabled them to claim eight successive victories, and win by some massive margins. As the evidence suggests, no other side has been able to live with Tuks’ physicality and intensity.

Can Varsity College succeed where others have failed, or at least improve on their previous performance in Pretoria?

“It’s a tough ask this Friday, but we’ve spoken about breaking the game down into periods of 120 seconds,” McLaren revealed.

“If you can build some momentum on attack and win a penalty, and build from there… or conversely if you can make a key intervention on defence, force a mistake and stop their momentum… Just focus on the next 120 seconds,

“I’m not going to lie, it’s a physical and mental mountain to climb, but we’ve got to give ourselves a chance. Keeping the error rate low is another priority, as Tuks have the potential to punish mistakes.”

It’s fair to say that Varsity College have exceeded all expectations in their first season. Win or lose this Friday, they have laid the platform for a promising future in Varsity rugby.

“We’re focused on the coming Final and the result. In terms of the bigger picture, I’m excited about the future of this team,” McLaren said.

“We’ll lose a couple of players after the campaign due to the age requirements of the tournament. By and large, we’ll keep most of the team together.

“If we get things right off the field, in terms of our conditioning and a bit of recruiting, I’ve no doubt we will improve.

“We have the baseline now, and it’s important to build on that in the months to come. Next season, we won’t be the newbies any longer, other teams will know about us and they will gun for us. We’ve got to be prepared for that challenge if we’re going to take things forward.”

@rugby365com

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