The FNB University of Fort Hare rugby team will renew a growing rivalry with one of the best teams in the FNB Varsity Shield when they face Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town on Thursday.
After two home games, the Blues are on the road this time, looking to bounce back after suffering a loss to the University of Western Cape last week.
A year ago they were involved in two titanic struggles against CPUT, winning their round-robin match with a last-gasp intercept try and then edging them 28-27 in the final to take the trophy for the first time.
This came after the Cape outfit had won the title in 2019 and 2021.
Blues coach Lumumba Currie understood the challenge they faced but said the players were ready to stand up and be counted against the best.
“CPUT will be no child’s play. Like many teams in the Shield competition, they are chasing promotion,” he warned.
“It has always been a good match-up between our two sides and we know you have to win against the best to be the best, so we welcome this opportunity to test ourselves.”
After a narrow one-point escape in their opening game against Walter Sisulu University, the Blues went down 33-13 to UWC in the second round.
It was a setback for their title ambitions, but Currie said they would continue to learn their lessons as they strived to stay in contention for the top two spots.
“It was a bit disappointing because we actually gave away some soft tries, which resulted in them putting 14 points on the board,” the coach said.
“One came from a penalty that we didn’t kick out and they counter-attacked, and then we knocked the ball on after a scrum near our tryline.
“Those sorts of unforced errors will cost you when the matches are tight,” said Currie, lamenting that it came after they had competed well in the first quarter.
Despite the loss, he said he was impressed with the improvement shown in certain phases, given that many of his charges were inexperienced at this level.
“After taking a pounding up front in our first match against Walter Sisulu our young front row showed what they could do by forcing two scrum penalties in the first quarter against UWC.”
The coach said they knew they would be tested up front and that he was happy how the players carried themselves.
“If there was any doubt that we could defend this trophy, that period showed that we can compete with the best – especially against a team who come from Varsity Cup and put 80 points past Rhodes the previous week.”
Currie acknowledged that they would have to eliminate unforced errors in such a tight competition.
“It comes down to self-belief and minimising the types of mistakes we made in last week’s game,” he said.
“It is a learning curve for many of the players but, if we focus on being consistent and stick to our gameplan, we can achieve our goals.”
He was nevertheless happy with how the Blues were trying to improve with every match.
“We just need support from all sides because there is a lot of rugby potential at Fort Hare.”