Maties playmaker Jordan Chait says the team did not expect their Varsity Cup campaign to go as well as it has after losing a number of experienced players. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Maroon Machine has made light work of the league this season, winning all eight of its games, while sealing top spot with a match to spare after closest challengers Tuks drew with UCT.
In fact, the current squad is outperforming the class of 2018, collecting four more log points and scoring 12 more tries while doing it. It is quite an achievement when you consider that the team lost a bulk of experience in the likes of former captain Neil Oelofse and centre Michal Haznar.
Chait, one of the young guns who has had to step up to the 1st XV, told SARugbymag.co.za they expected the season to be much tougher, given the exodus.
‘It has been a great season so far,’ Chait says. ‘Having lost those big-name players, we had a lot of players from the Young Guns coming into the team. We surprised ourselves, to be honest.
‘We had a good pre-season and did not really change much with regard to our structures. The coaching staff also remained the same. It has been nice to see how the team – and the culture within it – has done so well this year when compared to last year.
‘The vibe in the team is healthy at the moment. It definitely helps that we have a very young team this year.
‘In saying that, we still have guys like Chris Massyn, who is 25 now and gets along very well with the 20-year-olds in the squad. We all get on well and the dynamic is healthy at the moment.’
Maties will face the free-flowing Shimlas in their semi-final in Stellenbosch, a game where Chait will face another up-and-coming flyhalf in Lubabalo Dobela, who played for the Junior Springboks last year.
‘They have a very good backline,’ Chait says of the Free State team. ‘They have strong backs who run hard and they scored two tries off first-phase possession against us in Bloemfontein.
‘Lubabalo is a very good player and he basically runs the Shimlas side. We are going to have to watch him. His all-round game is excellent, so he is a threat. But we will do our prep and homework on them this week and be ready when they come down here on Monday.’
Chait has had to fill the boots of Chris Smith, who was excellent in helping steer Maties to the Varsity Cup title last year. However, the long relationship between the two, which started at SACS, helped make the transition easier.
‘He went to school at SACS and I also ended up there,’ Chait says. ‘I have known him for a long time, but as he is about three or four years older than me, last year was the first time we were in a proper team environment together. He is a great player and being able to play under him, I learned a lot last year.
‘I managed to get on in the final, but that was the only game I played all season. But just being in the whole environment definitely helped me. Obviously, it was tough at times to stay motivated because things get tough when you are just training and don’t play much.’
Chait’s excellent form this season has led to calls for the former Western Province youth player to play at a higher level, but he admits that with his contract having come to an end in 2018, he may have to look abroad for opportunities.
‘I have thought about it a lot. I played for WP at age-group level and my contract did not get extended after last year. I currently don’t have a contract. I’m also looking at options overseas because I’m finishing my degree this year. But if I get the call to play for Province, it would definitely be something to consider.’
Photo: Thys Lombard/Varsity Sports