Wits coach Hugo van As wants his side and supporters to have realistic expectations this year after an excellent 2018 Varsity Cup campaign. DYLAN JACK reports.
The surprise side of last year, Wits largely exceeded expectations by winning four and drawing one of their eight games, claiming the scalps of Tuks and UCT on their way to the semi-finals, where they lost to eventual champions Maties.
Their results last year will undeniably raise expectations among their fans of a potential title challenge this year, but Van As told SARugbymag.co.za that while there is plenty of excitement in the squad, they have to be realistic of what they can achieve.
‘The fact that we reached semi-finals last year means that the thought in the general public will be: can Wits get there again?’ Van As said. ‘We are grateful for what we achieved last year, but we are realistic in the sense that we are not one of the top three or four high-performance institutions.
‘Maties and Tuks, Pukke and even Kovsies and UJ have been going for a long time. Pukke and Maties both have great facilities, and in that sense we are realistic that we are not there yet. That is something that is an ongoing process and can take seven or eight years to create that environment.
‘The talk is for us to again be very competitive, and I think last season we threw that monkey off our back that we were that team that was an easy outing and easy five points to pick up, home or away. So our talk is in the short term to stay competitive and to be there and thereabouts. We can be top four, but need to stay realistic. We are preparing to do well, but need to find that balance between where we are and where we want to be.’
A major boost for Wits is that barring a couple of players, including star back Tyrone Green, they will have a very similar squad to what they had last year, allowing Van As some continuity in his selections.
‘It is very important,’ Van As said. ‘That was always our go-to, if we can work with the guys for three or four years, then the system will get rewarded. At the end of the day, it is your system that will bring your rewards, not necessarily a star player.’
Wits will start their campaign with a repeat of last year’s semi-final against Maties. Even though the defending champions have lost a number of experienced players from 2018, Van As still expects a tough match at the Danie Craven Stadium.
‘It is a huge challenge, but we are excited. It will be great to be able to see where we stand in the competition. We need to go all out for those 80 minutes. It is always a great trip and a great opportunity to play there at a packed Coetzenburg.’
Photo: Dominic Barnardt/Varsity Sports