Maties coach Hawies Fourie says they are focused on winning the Varsity Cup title again, rather than defending it, ahead of their opener against Wits in Stellenbosch next Monday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The defending champions have adopted a change in mentality in an attempt to alleviate the pressure of their title defence this season.
‘We have spoken about it quite early in the pre-season and decided that we are not taking the route of thinking that we are defending champions and trying to defend the cup,’ Fourie told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘We all know it is a new season and this is a new team. So we are starting from scratch and are focused on the mentality of winning the title again, rather than the pressure of defending it.’
Maties have enjoyed a successful off-season, which began last year in October with wins in their warm-up games against Cape rivals UWC and UCT.
‘We played against UWC, who were not at their best and beat them quite convincingly,’ said Fourie. ‘Last weekend we played against UCT. It was quite a tight and physical battle, which was what we wanted. They have a quality side this year, so we were quite happy with how it went.’
Having lost plenty of experience – especially in their forward pack, with the departures of former captain Chippy Oelofse, flank Marno Redelinghuys, prop Neethling Fouché, as well as Chris Smith and Michal Haznar in the backs – Maties have mostly relied on their title-winning Young Guns to step up and fill the gaps in the squad.
‘There are some quality and experienced forwards that we have lost. We have five players who played for the Young Guns and SA U20 last year. They have filled a lot of those gaps with us losing guys like Chippy and Wilmar [Arnoldi].
‘The Young Guns won the competition last year, so that was a good experience for them, and we have made the final for three years in a row, so that will definitely help us. In our backline, especially, we still have players who know what it takes to be the best in the Varsity Cup.’
Maties will open their campaign by hosting a very competitive Wits outfit.
‘Wits are one of the favourites, along with Pukke and UCT,’ said Fourie. ‘It will definitely be a tough game against them. We played really well in the semi-final last year, but they got that draw against us in the league game. That just shows you their quality. They have also won both their warm-up matches. I watched their game against UJ and they were just in a different class.
‘They have a big pack of forwards and the same backs they had in 2018, except for Tyrone Green. They will definitely be a quality side with the same coaching staff, and having retained around 80 % of last year’s squad.’
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images