JJ Gagiano talks Intervarsity

The last time FNB UCT and FNB Maties met – in the Varsity Cup Final at the end of March – Stellenbosch ended up on top as they claimed a third successive title.

Saturday’s Intervarsity clash between these same sides, however, is not about revenge – it’s about UCT’s growth as a team… and the small matter of perhaps qualifying for the 2010 National Club Championships.

So says Ikey Tigers star JJ Gagiano, who won the Man of the Match Award in Stellenbosch that night – despite his side going down 14-17 at the Danie Craven Stadium.

“There is absolutely no talk in our camp about revenge,” Gagiano told varsitycup.co.za.

“The final was, what six weeks ago? Besides, it’s a different competition now – the league is a different ball game to the Varsity Cup and there are different things at stake.

“I don’t know when last a UCT side has made such a good start to the Super League and it would be great to keep our momentum up,” he added. “Also, a win over the Maties could see us having a crack at qualifying for the National Club champs, so there is plenty to play for.”

UCT – the only unbeaten side in the 2010 Western Province Super League – are pressing hard for qualification in the National Club Championships later this year.

Last season Hamilton’s represented WP at the Club Champs, eventually going on to win the tournament, but the Maties and UCT are currently both ahead of the defending champions on the Super League standings – hence the importance of Saturday’s fixture.

“I have no doubt that the WP Super League is the toughest in the country,” said Gagiano, who played his first match since the Varsity Cup Final against Hamilton’s this past weekend – a game the Ikeys won 21-12.

“Saturday’s game (against Hamilton’s) was a physical encounter, but I thought we played phenomenally well against a very good side and we fully deserved to come away with the win – especially after coming close a few times against them in recent years.

“Any rugby player wants to test himself against the best teams in the league,” he added, “and that’s what these games – against the likes of the Maties and Hamilton’s – are all about.”

Gagiano was not the only big-name player making his return against Hammies this past weekend, with all of UCT’s Western Province Vodacom Cup stars – with the exception of Nick Koster – fronting up to the WP and National Club champions in Oranjezicht.

“All the guys wanted to play – they were hungry and determined,” said the nine-times capped American international.

“I thought everyone (coming back) made a difference, but I have to make special mention here of Hanyani Shimange.

“Here’s a guy who’s played a couple of Tests for South Africa, and who’s quite a bit older than most of us, yet he gave up his day at home with his family to come and play for us. Shimmie’s won a Tri-Nations with the Springboks and played Super 12/14 and Currie Cup rugby yet he put his body on the line on Saturday.

“It’s quite humbling for the rest of us,” continued Gagiano, “and it also shows how much it means to everyone to play for UCT and how much competition there is to get into the side.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s Intervarsity clash (kick-off 4pm), Gagiano is relishing one more crack at the Men in Maroon; mainly because of what is at stake, but also because it could be his final clash against the Maties – at least for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a massive game; we’re all very excited about the fixture and determined to come away with a win,” he said.

“You could say that beating Hammies was a tick in the right box, but now we need to tick another box this weekend and beat the Maties…

“And then, more importantly perhaps, make sure that we continue to take things one week at a time. After all, we know better than most teams that you can’t take anyone for granted in the WP Super League.”