Maties coach Hawies Fourie admits he didn’t think they would be able to defend the Varsity Cup title after losing a host of experienced players at the start of the year. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Maroon Machine claimed their second successive Varsity Cup crown, and fifth overall, when they beat Tuks 34-12 in the final in Stellenbosch on Monday.
Maties are now unbeaten in 20 Varsity Cup matches, having last lost to Tuks in the 2017 final.
Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za on Tuesday, Fourie said their title defence was made all the more difficult by the player exodus they suffered after last year’s achievements.
‘I didn’t think it would be possible,’ Fourie said. ‘We lost [former captain] Chippy Oelofse, who played here for five seasons, as well as Wilmar Arnoldi, Neethling Fouche, Janco Venter, Marno Redelinghuys, Chris Smith and Michal Haznar. Those were big losses, quality players with lots of experience.
‘The guys who came in to replace them were around 20 years old. Guys like Sazi Sandi, Dan Jooste, Ben-Jason Dixon and Zirk Jansen. I was a bit worried last night, particularly with our tight five; it was only Wayrin Losper who was over 21 years old. The loss of Johan Momsen and Ernst van Rhyn was big for us. We knew it was going to be a tough ask against a well-drilled Tuks team.’
Fourie added that entering the season with a new mindset helped the team escape the enormous pressure that comes with a title defence.
‘It’s always more difficult to defend the title than to win it. You become the target of all the other teams if you are the champions, and the teams start measuring their performance against you. Even if they are not in the race for the semi-finals, if they can beat Maties, they will feel they have achieved something. You have to be at your best every Monday night.
‘From the beginning, we said we were not going to have the mindset of going to defend the title, we decided we wanted to win it again. It is a different mindset, with a different purpose.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) April 15, 2019
Photo: Kevin Sawyer/Varsity Sports