FNB UCT head coach John Dobson was a bitterly disappointed man after his side’s 17-19 semifinal loss to a fired-up Pukke team at the Green Mile on Monday afternoon. Disappointed – and naturally so, one might add – but yet also upbeat after another thrilling season of Varsity Cup rugby from the Ikey Tigers.
The result, of course, means the defending champion Maties will once again host a FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International Final – having done so last season – only this year it will not be against the Ikeys.
“Firstly, I want to congratulate Pukke who came down to these awful conditions and got a win,” Dobson told uctrfc.co.za on Tuesday.
“I am full of admiration for them and their remarkable captain, Willem van der Wal. He is the engine and talisman of that team and a very impressive player and individual.”
The disappointment, however, was there to see in the eyes of the UCT coach.
“Of course we are (disappointed) – having already watched the DVD twice we can blame only ourselves, and not as some have suggested the referee for that last penalty,” said Dobson.
“That we get into or near their 22m four times into that gale and then turned the ball over at lineouts or knocked it on was disappointing – the turning point being the knock on when we were on the attack in their 22… and then they ran 70m to score a crucial try.
“The toss was a massive factor. We knew we were under pressure when we lost it as it takes the team with the wind a good 20 minutes to find their feet. As it was, we scored our first points in the 24th minute – 24 minutes wasted in that hurricane was too much.
“People think we know the wind at our home ground, the Green Mile, but the point is that playing with it requires one to stand closer together and kick which is against the DNA of most UCT players.”
However, it was not complete doom and gloom for Dobson – and his assistant coach Robbie Fleck – and the talented Ikeys coach said: “I was much happier with our second half-effort.
“We defended mauls well and scored a super try. Leading 17-6 with 20 to go, we can look only at ourselves as to why we did not close the game out. We conceded too many penalties, which was crucial to playing into the wind and something we stressed the whole week.
“It was disappointing as we had done enough, despite our start to win the game. We would have loved to play our pattern in good conditions – but, like mud and rain, wind is also a great leveller.
“But it’s over and we are sad,” added Dobson with a hint of a smile on his face.
He added: “You know, we lost so many players – frontliners like James Martin (the Back of the Tournament in 2008), Herbert Mayosi (Forward of the Tournament in 2008), Dave Edgar, Danie van der Merwe, Kyle Brown, Mike Ledwidge, Martin Muller, JP Koster, Tim Whitehead, Rob Hopwood, etc – from last year, so we were always going to have to rebuild in 2009.
“So, I guess, rather than be too disappointed, I suppose we must be happy with second place and a home semifinal, which was our goal at the start of 2009,” he continued.
“I think it’s a massive credit to Maties who can lose so many players, but yet still produce a performance like (they did) last night. Their depth is astounding. I think we are especially gutted (about our loss) as we would have fancied a crack at them next week, given how close we came earlier in the season.
“It’s good to hear that Maties are relieved that they are not playing us (in the final). But given how we so easily could have won through to the final, it’s helluva disappointing. But Pukke had to wear it last year and now we must do the same.”
Despite his team’s loss in the semifinals – only their fourth defeat overall in two seasons of Varsity Cup rugby – Dobson was full of praise for the Varsity Cup; a tournament that once again lived up to its catchphrase of ‘Rugby that Rocks!’.
“I do want to thank Francois Pienaar and Duitser Bosman, and everybody else involved, for an amazing tournament once again. It was a great ride – as it was in 2008 – and great fun to play and compete at this level given the tournament’s vast professionalism,” said Dobson.
“I am proud of UCT given our resources that we can compete so well, but we now have to think about the local WP league which is arguably the toughest in the country with a helluva high standard amongst some great clubs.
“In fact, I think it is a property that WP Rugby could do more with – given their struggles to win major trophies of late. Last year we battled in the local league as it started just days after the Varsity Cup Final and we never found our feet. But the slightly longer break now should stand us in good stead as we would like to do well in it.
“At the end of the day, the Varsity Cup is the sexy product and the glamour event, but we have to pay our rent in the Super League.”