To say that the 2012 Varsity Cup season was a disappointing one for FNB Ikey Tigers coach Kevin Foote would be the greatest understatement in the five-year history of this tournament.
Just under twelve months ago Foote and his team were the darlings of Cape Town, and most of the Varsity Cup-watching public, as they finally ended their title drought with a tremendous display against FNB UP-Tuks in Pretoria.
This year, however, the Ikeys finished seventh on the Varsity Cup log and they now find themselves preparing for a promotion/relegation match against one of FNB Wits or FNB CUT (from the Varsity Shield) – a match that will be played as one of two curtain-raisers to the 2012 Grand Final.
"It hurts," said Foote, "it's not a nice feeling and it's certainly not something I'd like to endure again.
"I can tell you though," he added, "I've learnt more in these past few weeks than I ever learnt last year – in the Varsity Cup or the Super League – and it's lessons that I will be putting into practice."
Foote has given his team the week off, after their 18-29 Round Seven loss to UP-Tuks, and he expects a fresh squad to arrive at training next week to prepare for that promotion/relegation game on Monday, April 9.
"I still think, given the talent at our disposal, that we could have made the semifinals," he said, "unfortunately it's just not worked out for us this season.
"As I've said on countless occasions before, I cannot question the players' commitment – either at training or on game days – so there is a positive there. Now, it's all about survival and the guys will give it their all to avoid relegation."
Top rugby teams like the Bulls (before going on to taste Super Rugby glory) and English sides, Harlequins and Northampton, have all been relegated from the top level in the past – and bounced back stronger for it – but Foote refuses to contemplate the prospect of playing in the Varsity Shield.
"There's no such talk," he said. "As defending champions we have a lot of pride to play for, but, for the sake of the club, we also need to stay in the Varsity Cup.
"As I said, we've all learnt some harsh lessons this year, but it's all about performing in the promotion/relegation match and then starting well in the Super League and building, once again, towards the 2013 Varsity Cup."
By Howard Kahn