UCT coach Kevin Foote could be forgiven for thinking that coaching in the Varsity Cup was an easy job. After four matches in charge, the new FNB Ikey Tigers mentor is yet to taste defeat – but he knows all too well the pressures that go with facing up to the champion Maties.
Foote, you see, is a former Maties player himself and, having captained UCT against Stellenbosch at Intervarsity level – just a few years ago, in fact – he is better versed than most to talk about matches of this magnitude between the bitter Cape rivals.
And, of course, they do not get bigger than a top-of-the-table Varsity Cup clash at the Green Mile.
“I played there a long time ago… I was 20, 21 years old… so my heart is well and truly with UCT these days,” said Foote, a former SA Sevens captain, ahead of tonight’s home meeting with the three times champions.
“Things were different back then, however. When we played against UCT there was pressure not to lose to them – because they were always seen as a bunch of guys who ran the ball from everywhere and had more than a few beers afterwards.
“Now, however, the pressure is still there for Stellenbosch – but it’s pressure to go out there and beat UCT because they’ve since become more professional and organised – both on and off the field.”
Whilst very mindful of his team’s Varsity Cup record against the Men in Maroon – which sees the Maties hold an overall 4-1 advantage since 2008 – Foote is not about to hype things up ahead of tonight (kick-off 5pm).
“Our journey this year is an internal one – it’s about us improving as a team and getting better on a weekly basis. That’s what Varsity Cup Mondays are all about – no matter who we’re playing against.
“Sure, it will be a great occasion – as all UCT-Maties games always are – and it’s also a fun derby, with high-quality rugby on offer between two quality teams who get along very well off the field.
“But in many ways it’s just another game for us… a game which we, of course, would dearly like to win.”
Win or lose on Monday, Foote has reason to be happy with the Ikeys’ start to the 2011 season, but he refuses to contemplate defeat in any match – be it in the Varsity Cup against Maties or in a WP Super League match against a bottom-placed team.
Foote told varsitycup.co.za: “I’m expecting a tight match.
“A lot has been said, over the years, about the conditions at UCT and, yes, they will play a role. It goes without saying that hopefully we will use those conditions better than Stellenbosch.
“There will be pressure, as you would expect in any match – nevermind a derby match – but it’s all about absorbing that pressure and taken any chances that come our way.
“Maybe the teams that we’ve played against thus far haven’t taken their chances properly [against us]. Against the Maties, however, they will take even half a chance – should we make any mistakes – and we need to be prepared to do the same.”
The Ikeys showed against the fired-up TUT Vikings last week that they are a side capable of taking their chances.
Having been forced to play most of the first half with just 14 men – after flanker Nizaam Carr’s second yellow card – they absorbed plenty of pressure before racking up three second-half tries; all against the wind.
“The guys never panicked – not even for one second,” said Foote, “that was pleasing.
“It showed how confident they are, as a team, but – once again – it proved how strong the leadership is within the squad. The guys stayed true to what we’ve been doing on the training ground and I thought it was a real confidence-booster ahead of the Maties game.”
By Howard Kahn