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UWC target Maties scalp as relegation threat builds

SPOTLIGHT: UWC’s quest to retain their Varsity Cup status may hinge on the outcome of the next two matches against Stellenbosch and UCT.

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The battle for Varsity Cup semifinal spots will intensify in the coming weeks.

Shimlas currently lead the log, but whether they can retain that position over the next three rounds and secure home advantage for the playoffs remains to be seen.

Other teams such as Maties (fourth) and Wits (fifth) have work to do if they’re going to make the final four. Maties made a statement in the 54-22 win against UJ last week and will target another big result against UWC next Monday.

At the other end of the spectrum, UWC, UJ, and even CUT are scrapping to avoid relegation.

CUT is currently in sixth place, with two wins and nine log points. UJ and UWC are yet to win a game, but the Johannesburg-based side has racked up more bonus points (three) than their Western Cape counterparts (one).

These teams have to start banking log points, and possibly even win, sooner rather than later.

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The team that finishes last in the league will be automatically relegated to the Varsity Shield.

Meanwhile, the seventh-placed side will face the second-ranked team in the Shield in a promotion-relegation playoff.

Knowing this, teams in the ‘danger zone’ are under pressure to act. UWC has to pick up log points against Maties next Monday, before playing UCT and UJ after that.

“After being promoted from the Varsity Shield, we set ourselves the goal of staying in the Cup,” UWC coach Paul Treu told @Rugby365com.

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“We underestimated how difficult it would be to compete at this level, especially after losing a lot of our key players, particularly in the tight five. That’s often the price you pay for performing, as the players get snapped up by other Cup teams and the provincial unions.

“Things haven’t gone as we hoped they would, but it’s not over yet,” he added. “We have three more games, and it’s all about picking up as many points as possible.

“It may come down to that final league game against UJ, but we can’t just wait around and hope that UJ loses a game or two. We have to start putting points on the board.

“We’re looking to finish seventh – which would allow us to play a promotion-relegation playoff and possibly keep our place in the Cup.”

Treu’s charges have played well in patches this season. Ultimately, a lack of consistency has contributed to their losing run – as well as a dearth of log points.

“UWC starts well and finishes well. In that middle period – the 20 minutes either side of half-time – we struggle without consistency. That’s been the big challenge: keeping our shape for 80 minutes, maintaining our discipline, and limiting errors.

“We’re leaking too many tries, and when I say tries, I mean seven-point tries. One minute you’re leading by seven points, and then you concede a couple of long-range tries and suddenly you are chasing the game. Those lapses can be so costly in a tournament like the Varsity Cup.

“We haven’t won a game, and we’re coming up against one of the best teams in the Varsity Cup in our next match.

“Since Kabamba Floors took over last year, Maties have taken things forward and are probably one of the form teams. It’s a big ask for us, but we know what’s at stake.”

Despite the magnitude of the challenge, UWC realise that it’s do-or-die in the context of their campaign.

“I’ve told the guys ‘This is it’,” the UWC coach said.

“You have to go into the game with the intent to claim maximum points. If we can’t win it, we have to pick up some bonus points to stay in the hunt in terms of our log position.

“Maties enjoy a forward-oriented contest, so that’s been our focus ahead of the next game. We struggled at the set pieces against CUT but was much better against Shimlas recently.

“Maties will look to target us in those areas, and maul us, so we will have to come up with plans to counter them.”

UWC may be hard-pressed to beat Maties and UCT, even though the two Cape derbies will be staged at their campus in Bellville.

That said, UJ has an arguably tougher schedule. After playing the NWU Eagles – who won last year’s tournament – they will host Wits, who have been in impressive form.

UWC will look to accumulate as many log points in the coming weeks, and hope that UJ fails to add to their tally.

In that event, the final league fixture between UJ and UWC may determine which of the teams drops down to the Varsity Shield.

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