It is do or die for the Walter Sisulu University All Blacks as they play the biggest match of their fledgling Varsity Cup rugby careers when they meet the Central University of Technology Ixias in a massive Varsity Cup promotion/relegation match at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch today.
The All Blacks earned the right to compete for a spot in the country’s top varsity rugby league by finishing as runners-up in the second-tier Varsity Shield competition this season.
On the opposite end of the spectrum due to finishing second from the bottom of this year’s Varsity Cup competition, the Ixias avoided automatic relegation – which went to the Nelson Mandela University Madibaz – but left them needing to win the play-off to remain in the top league.
It is a huge encounter as the winner will have at least the next two years in the Varsity Cup, with the promotion and relegation phase of both competitions only coming around bi-annually.
“The guys are very confident. They were obviously disappointed to lose the final last Monday, but they are excited to bounce back and believe they belong in the Varsity Cup,” said All Blacks coach Sipho Metula.
“We have been working on the errors that we made in the Varsity Shield final, our problems at the breakdown and our ball skills, which need to be en pointe against CUT.”
Form-wise, despite losing the Varsity Shield final against the newly promoted University of the Western Cape, the All Blacks will still feel confident having won six out of eight games this season, with both losses coming against UWC.
The Ixias, on the other hand, only managed one win against seven losses this season and will thus arguably head into the play-off woefully short of confidence.
However, what could be a defining factor in the match will be the quality of opposition both sides has faced.
The All Blacks have only faced one side that is of Varsity Cup calibre in UWC, and both times came up well short.
This while the Ixias battled it out against the best of the best all season and it is that experience that should make them slight favourites.
“We have put emphasis on our line speed which we believe will be important in the game,” admitted Metula.
“The Danie Craven Stadium is a big field and stadium, so the guys are looking forward to playing there.
“There will be a lot of space and we will look to run the ball at every opportunity as that is our strength and we believe we can exploit gaps in the CUT defence.”
The All Blacks will also be extremely fired up for the encounter and have extra motivation in the fact that if they do not win the match, there will be no Eastern Cape representative in the Varsity Cup for the next two years at least.
“It is a massive game, the whole Eastern Cape will be supporting us and cheering us on to victory and we now have to carry the flag high for the whole province,” claimed Metula.
“I think that we do have the players to get us into the Varsity Cup and we must now prove it on the day.”
The action gets under way today at 2.30pm and will be broadcast live on SuperSport 1, while the Varsity Cup Residence Rugby Champs final and 2018 Varsity Cup final will both follow after the match.