UJ enjoying their rebuild phase
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The University of Johannesburg find themselves in a "funny, yet fun" predicament ahead of the 2017 Varsity Cup competition. Tauriq Ebrahim reports.
UJ, who hosted a semifinal last season, are in a rebuilding phase as they have lost a host of senior players who were crucial to their relatively successful 2016 campaign. Their opening three matches - against Pukke, Shimlas and Tuks - will be a true test of how a fairly inexperienced team matches up to their more senior counterparts.
"It has been solid and interesting preseason for us because we have had a bit of a changing of the guard in the broader group after losing some senior players - based on age and finishing of studies.
"A lot those guys were central to our side for the last three years and they came together as a group, which is why we had some level of success last year. This one [build-up] has been interesting as we have a lot of 20-year-olds in the system, which is also good to have a change of an era.
"We have a tough start with three very big teams first up, so we will get a good indication after those matches of where these youngsters will be going. However, we should back ourselves later in the competition to match up to the other teams.
"It's an exciting time for us. We have a good energy going and it's a funny phase - which is the fun part," Janse van Rensburg told rugby365.com.
Janse van Rensburg, who will be in charge of his fourth Varsity Cup season with the institution, knows the importance of getting some points from the opening matches, which will stand them in good stead going into the back end of the competition.
"You don't want to put yourself in a pressurised situation after your opening few games, so we have to approach it by winning on Monday [against Pukke] and getting some points from the other two games, which will make the pressure [later on] easier to handle.
"But you can't predict what will happen. The fact that we are inexperienced can make the squad come together easier because they fight a little more for each other - which is kind of a naive in the sense of not knowing what's coming, which can count in our favour as well.
"So we would be looking to get six to eight points from the opening three games before grouping a bunch of results together in the remaining matches," he added.
While UJ may be fielding an inexperienced side, Janse van Rensburg has given preference to an Under-21 player who has been part of the UJ setup before, as he feels it would be too early to thrust an U-19 player into this level of the game.
"We won't field our U-19s in this squad. We feel that it may be a little too early for them and gave preference to a 20 or 21-year-old who has been part of the system previously. It would be hard on that player to have put in the time of being in the environment and then having us shove an U-19 player ahead of him.
"This competition isn't one where you take on the opposition with a bunch of youngsters. You need that bit of experience which is why we selected our preseason fixtures the way we did. We gave a lot of guys a chance against Wits and then took a very young side to play Tuks to get them to understand what is required to play in this competition.
"We have a bunch of guys who are learning their trade at this level which makes them exciting," he stated.
By Tauriq Ebrahim