Although the University of Johannesburg are the current Varsity Hockey champions, they face a tough challenge at this year’s event, which starts at UJ on Friday.

The biennial tournament comes hard on the heels of last weekend’s SA interprovincial and the stamina of the players will be tested with four matches in four days.

Coach Garreth Ewing acknowledged that the interprovincial had been a factor in their Varsity Hockey preparations, but said he was happy with their build-up this week.

“Fifteen of our team were involved at the interprovincial, so that was a limiting factor for me as I didn’t want to push the guys too hard. But I feel comfortable with where we are.”

He said nobody really knew what was going to happen because of the tough environment and the fact that the teams were all good.

“We have done okay, winning the first edition, but I don’t think ‘defending’ our title is the right word because the team is so different.

“We are looking forward to having another go at it. It’s a fun competition and a new team, so we are just happy to have the chance to compete.”

The fact that the first round of the tournament was staged at UJ could benefit them, said Ewing.

“We are happy to be playing at home. It will bring its own kind of pressure, but will assist us in terms of scheduling and that sort of thing.”

The experience of skipper Gareth Heyns, a national team member and part of UJ’s title-winning squad, will be an important factor.

“I think some might underestimate our younger players, while Gareth has been really influential for us. I think he will have a big role to play.”

The Varsity Hockey format may come under scrutiny because the teams only have a three-day break before a further four games in the next round.

Eight matches in 11 days made the depth of the squads a key element, said Ewing.

“That’s where I feel lucky because there’s nobody in my squad who can’t go on and do a job for me.

“We will be rolling our substitutions and playing a good tempo for all those games. The workload is really tough and it’s just something we have to deal with.”

Despite the test of stamina that lurked, Ewing said the players were excited and up for the challenge.

“I think the format is always going to need work, but we like the fact we play every side. Unlike some other university tournaments, in this one you get a go at everybody and that’s the best bit.”

UJ’s fixtures are: Maties (May 6), Pukke (May 7), Ikeys (May 8), Kovsies (May 9).

Issued by: Coetzee Gouws
On behalf of: University of Johannesburg