The Ikey Tigers endured some nervous moments during their 19-17 semifinal clinching win over Tuks, but head coach Kevin Foote never stopped believing – especially in that dramatic final quarter.
At 19-17 up, the Ikeys still had to keep Tuks at bay for over ten minutes, in a dramatic finale to an up-and-down match, but Foote never once contemplated defeat.
“After the second strategy break [in the 60th minute] I had no doubt we would do it,” Foote told varsitycup.co.za.
“I cannot speak highly enough of Nick Fenton-Wells’s leadership,” added Foote, “but a guy like [scrumhalf] Nic Groom also had some great things to say during that break.
“As a coach, that put me at ease – knowing the guys were in good hands. When we got back to our seats, I told the rest of the coaching team that we would win. At that stage I had no doubt.”
Despite believing in his charges, during those nailbiting final few minutes, Foote has targeted an improvement – in various facets of play – ahead of Monday’s home semifinal clash against Shimlas.
“Totally,” he said, when asked if there was room for improvement, “I don’t think we played that well, but the guys showed plenty of guts when it mattered most.
“The three Tuks tries irked me a bit… it was unnecessary… But I knew once we got ahead, and had them chasing the game, that we would be able to keep our noses in front.”
Foote’s other big battle this week will concern the make-up of the UCT matchday 23, as the Ikeys gear up for a record-setting fourth successive home semifinal in this tournament.
With replacement hooker Dayne Jans picking up a knee injury – more will be known about that later in the week – Foote is also waiting on the potential return to fitness of other players, whilst there is the small matter of provincial and SA Under-20 call-ups which affects players like Hilton Lobberts, Tim Whitehead and Nizaam Carr; to name just three.
“I know some people questioned our selection of Hilton, but it was an absolute honour having him in the mix,” said Foote, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.
“Hilton is now a UCT man and a proud one at that! He made a huge difference, both on and off the field, so much so that he won our in-house Man of the Match Award – much to his delight and his teammates’.
“I’d love to have him in the mix again this week, but it depends on the Western Province selectors. There are a few niggles in the Stormers team which could mean a few shuffles – all of which has a knock-on effect, from us, to the Vodacom Cup team… up to the Stormers side.”
But selection puzzles aside, Foote is expecting a titanic struggle against Shimlas on Monday – in a repeat of last year’s semifinal fixture at the Green Mile – as the Ikeys look to fly the Cape’s flag in the absence of the three-times champion Maties, who failed to qualify for the semifinals for the first time ever.
“We’re expecting the Shimlas to hit us hard,” said Foote, “we’re expecting the worst and are under no illusions – it will be tough!
“Our feet are firmly on the ground, but we’re a hungry team and we’d relish the chance to head up to Johannesburg in April to play in the 2011 Varsity Cup Final.”
And what about the shock demise of the all-conquering Maties?
“I was very surprised and very disappointed for them,” said Foote.
“I’m not on Twitter, but someone showed me a ‘Tweet’ from Chean Roux saying that he would now be supporting us in the remainder of the tournament.
“It was a great touch from him, and I’m very thankful to Chean for his support. We’ll certainly be going all out to ensure that the Varsity Cup stays in the Cape!”
By Howard Kahn