CUT coach Tiaan Liebenberg says his side must believe they can beat the top sides in order to avoid relegation from the Varsity Cup this year.
CUT finished bottom of the table after their first season of Varsity Cup in 2017, despite running a number of teams close.
Every second year the team that finishes last in the Varsity Cup will automatically be relegated to the Varsity Shield. The Varsity Cup team finishing second from the bottom will play a promotion-relegation match against the Varsity Shield team that finishes second from the top.
‘The major problem for us is that we did not believe we could beat some of the top sides last year,’ Liebenberg told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘If you go into a match without that belief, then no matter how well you prepare, you won’t win.
‘Our conditioning was a massive issue last year and that played a part in the number of injuries that we had last year.’
Liebenberg is confident that CUT will have an improved 2018 season, and that they can survive relegation.
‘We knew that 2017 was going to be tough, and that we had to recruit players who would be with us for 2017 and 2018. We have also recruited a new conditioning coach who was coaching with me at Free State U19. So I think we are in a much better space conditioning-wise and player-wise,’ Liebenberg said.
This year, captains will be able to remove any two nominated backline players from the opposition for three minutes of playing time during matches.
The power play, which will also be part of the Varsity Shield, must be called by a team while in their own half, and may only be used once by the captain. If the team whose players have been removed score a try during the power play period, they are awarded an extra two points (seven points before the conversion).
Liebenberg said the new law will have a bigger impact on CUT as they have a smaller pool of players to choose from compared to some of the other teams in the competition.
‘Being a smaller university that has to compete with bigger universities is already a challenge because we do not have the same budget. Now I am expected to compete with these larger universities with only 13 men.
‘We have been able to have a good look at the system and how it will influence our play in our pre-season games. It can be a disadvantage and an advantage. If my team is leading and defending our tryline, I can influence the attacking side by forcing two of their players off.
‘I still do not think it is in the spirit of the Varsity Cup, but it is the law and we must adapt.’
By Dylan Jack
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/ Gallo Images