The Fort Hare Blues have been dealt a daunting hand at the University Sports South Africa tournament but are determined to play their cards right.
The annual event takes place in Durban from tomorrow (Saturday) until Wednesday to see who of the country’s elite trumps who.
When you consider that UCT were the FNB Varsity Cup runners-up this year and CUT defeated Madibaz 91-10 in the promotion-relegation playoff, it illustrates that the odds are firmly stacked against the former Varsity Shield champions.
Furthermore, CPUT were second in the Varsity Shield while the Blues finished fourth, so there will be no easy pickings over the next five days.
Nonetheless, coach Madoda Ludidi is preparing his squad, led by Kamvelihle Fatyela (captain) and Ryan Maree (vice-captain), to learn as much as possible, bearing in mind that there is no title up for grabs at the USSAs.
“This tournament operates in the same way as the Craven Week, in which you obviously don’t play everybody,” Ludidi explained. “You play your three matches and work hard to produce good results from those games.”
The coach feels the biggest challenge will come from UCT, whom they played last year in an encounter that was hotly contested for the full 80 minutes.
“We ended up losing but it came down to a few wrong decisions towards the end of the game. They have the uncanny ability to score from anywhere.”
The Blues would pin the Cape Town side down in their own half and then the latter would hit back and score against the run of play, he said.
Even though UCT presents the most obvious hurdle, he will know that CUT and CPUT are jokers in the pack, ready to pounce when you disregard them most.
All being said and done, this becomes an opportunity for Ludidi to blood some of the younger players in the squad and to test systems and strategies ahead of next season.
“We had a bit of a delay in terms of preparation because of academic commitments, but there has been a good mood at practice lately,” the Blues coach said.
“We want to rekindle our culture, which is similar to a blue-collar attitude; mixing humility with the nitty-gritty of being prepared to do the hard yards.”
Showing an iron-like resolve and creating a sheer bloody-mindedness in the team were the aces up the coach’s sleeve when the Blues reported for duty at their training camp last week.
“We revisited the positions of all the players, worked on individual skills and did some tough physical work to get the conditioning up for the challenge of playing in Durban,” Ludidi explained.