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UJ desperate to clear relegation ‘danger zone’

SPOTLIGHT: Coach Jonathan Mokuena believes that UJ have what it takes to beat UWC next week and avoid a promotion-relegation battle with the Varsity Shield runners-up.

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UJ thrashed local rivals Wits 49-26 on Monday to claim their first win of the 2024 campaign.

As a result, UJ will finish in seventh place or higher and avoid automatic relegation to the Varsity Shield for the 2025 season.

UWC – who have lost all of their matches to date while accumulating just a solitary bonus point – will drop down to the second tier next year. They cannot finish higher than UJ, who currently have eight log points.

UJ, however, could yet finish in sixth place and avoid a promotion-relegation battle with the Varsity Shield runners-up.

If CUT fail to claim any log points in the earlier fixture against Maties next Monday, and if UJ go on to secure a bonus-point win against UWC, Mokuena’s side will finish the regular season outside of the relegation zone.

In that event, the seventh-placed CUT – rather than UJ – would be subject to a promotion-relegation playoff.

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“I’m a little bit more relaxed knowing that we’re out of the running for automatic relegation,” Mokuena told @rugby365com.

“Having said that, the job is far from done, as we don’t really want to play in that promotion-relegation playoff. There’s a helluva lot to play for against UWC next week.”

Mokuena reflected on the challenges that have contributed to five defeats and just one victory across the 2024 campaign.

“A lot of what’s happened off the field has contributed to our performances on it. We lost a lot of our senior players, and then the university was under pressure to renovate the residences. As a result, the students were moved around, which is not ideal.”

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The team clicked in the most recent fixture against Wits, scoring 49 points and six tries.

Had they been as clinical in earlier fixtures, UJ may well have challenged for a semi-final berth.

“I’ve always believed that we had the right personnel in place, as well as the right game plan,” said Mokuena.

“At times, however, our intensity and our execution let us down.

“We went toe-to-toe with UCT, Shimlas and Maties for 60 minutes. That shows me that the plan is working, although we could have done better to finish those games off.

“We may also look back at that first game against CUT and wonder what could have been.

“We had 19 entries into their 22, but only scored on three occasions. If we’d won that game [instead of going down 23-19] our season may have been very different.

“But as we’ve seen, the margins in the Varsity Cup are so fine. When you have those chances, you have to take them – otherwise you may regret it later in the tournament.”

If Maties do UJ a favour by denying CUT any log points next Monday, Mokuena’s charges will travel into the final fixture with destiny in their own hands.

“It’s a big advantage to be playing this last game at home and know that we can’t be automatically relegated. But the guys will be highly motivated going into that match against UWC.

“We can’t take them lightly. I was impressed by our intensity against Wits, and have asked the guys to replicate that when we play UWC next week. There is a lot at stake.”

UJ desperate to clear relegation ‘danger zone’

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