They might still be regarded by some as the 'poor' cousins of the FNB Varsity Cup, but the table-topping Ikey Tigers are determined to bury that tag when they host North-West University's Pukke in the Varsity Cup semi-finals at 14h30 on Monday.
The Ikeys clinched top spot in the Varsity Cup standings on Saturday already, but they ended their round-robin campaign with a trilogy of wins over the Easter Weekend of rugby in George. First they trumped archrivals Maties by 38-32 (bragging right for years), then trounced Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University by 38-7, and settled things with a 28-14 win over Shimlas (University of the Free State) on Easter Monday as head coach John Dobson gave a few fringe players a run.
Regular skipper JJ Gagiano led the team into battle, scoring one of UCT's four tries on the day.
"We have real depth at the club, but, most importantly, the guys were very determined to go out there and end the weekend on a high," said head coach John Dobson.
"This team is very hungry and they're a pleasure to coach, but we can't rest on our laurels and we have plenty to work on this week ahead of the semi-finals."
Of course, Pukke - under the coaching of former Scotland international Matthew Proudfoot - are the only side to have beaten UCT this season and the men in Blue and White are fully aware of that.
Dobson added: "We are aware of Pukke's strengths, but we are a different side to the one that went down to them in that opening match.
"The guys have a new belief in themselves and you only have to look back at our games against UJ and Maties, when we were down at half-time, to realise how strong these guys are mentally."
Dobson and backline coach Robbie Fleck have combined superbly this season, with their team ending the league stages of the Varsity Cup as the top try-scorers (37) and leading points-scorers (260). They also ended with the best overall points' difference (111), thanks to their miserly defence that leaked just 17 tries in seven matches.
Marcello Sampson and Mathew Turner (six tries) ended the league phase as the top try-scorers in the Varsity Cup, with fellow speedsters Marvin Christians (four tries) and Rob Hopwood not far behind in joint third place. Flyhalf and regular goal-kicker Matt Rosslee is second on the overall points-scoring charts with 70 points, trailing UJ's Ryno Luus by 24 points.
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