This year, the senior men’s rugby 7s team of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) headed into the Varsity Sports 7s rugby tournament with hopes to defend their 2019 title. With only two wins out of five matches, UJ finished in fourth position in the tournament which took place on Friday, 7 and Saturday, 8 October 2022.
Prior to the rugby 7s matches, the UJ men’s hockey team also crashed out of the Varsity Sports hockey tournament with two losses on Wednesday, 5 and Thursday, 6 October 2022.
“These were tough lessons learned, but we will come back stronger,” says UJ rugby 7s team captain, Mpho Khubeka.
The men’s rugby 7s team started like a house on fire, winning both their two opening games on Friday. UJ downed North West University (NWU) 41-15. Despite an early try for the NWU side, UJ responded quickly and utilised the power play to devastate the NWU team. UJ’s opening try propelled them to dominate the rest of the match.
The second game was even more impressive, with the ladies having won their matches too, as UJ sent Madibaz packing with a thrilling 47-7 win. After early pressure from Madibaz, the Orange Army scored three unanswered tries in the first half courtesy of UJ trio Asemahle Mafenyana, Siphesihle Nkabini and Tyreeq February. Despite an early try from the Madibaz in the second half to try a comeback (33-7), UJ upped the tempo and completed the rout with Tumelo Schaune and Akliyane Thomson scoring tries before the match ended.
UJ went into the third and last encounter of day one matches feeling confident as they took on UP Tuks. The Gauteng derby between the two sides was a cagey affair, with both teams going into the half time break with a 0-0 score line. Despite their dominance in the game, UJ could only score one early try in the start of the second half courtesy of Tumelo Schane. However. the game was marred with controversy as the Orange Army thought their try was scored during a power play. Later on, the home crowd went into a frenzy as the hosts snatched the game with a late powerplay try by Ambesa Zenzile to win the game 12-7.
The second day of the 2022 Varsity Rugby 7s tournament saw UJ play their final game before the playoffs against eventual champions UWC. After scoring first, the Orange Army had a yellow card which allowed UWC to capitalise and win the dramatic game 27-17.
The UJ men’s team did enough to try playing all the way to the final, but the University of Free State denied the Orange Army a chance to go through to the final by winning 31-5 in the semifinal match.
Speaking on what went wrong on day two, Khubeka said, “The first two games were on point, but the last match on Friday and the first one today were not up to the required standard. A lot of calls did not go our way, but we cannot always blame the officials. We need to be clinical to ensure that we win the game nicely and early so that we don’t find ourselves in situations where we have to rely on the officiating for chances to win.”
“We let ourselves down, however some of the calls were really disappointing and tough to take as it impacted on the games we played. Tough lessons learned from the tournament, but the biggest thing for us is to deal with adversity better and use it to push us even more,” Khubeka added.
On the hockey front, only top four universities in the country, namely: UJ, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), UP-Tuks, and Stellenbosch University (Maties) men’s teams went head to head.
With four teams participating, this meant that the teams played a semi-final and final matches only. UJ took on Johannesburg rivals Wits in the opening encounter. The semi-final match started in a sketchy take for UJ as Wits went into the second quarter leading by two goals to nil. Dechlam Bennett pulled one goal for UJ before the halftime break to make it 2-1. Wits returned to the turf energised, finishing with a 5-3 victory over UJ. This score impaired Coach Malebye’s boys’ hopes to make it to the final.
“The Varsity Sports festival was a great tournament with just four top teams in the country. This means we faced the highest and best quality opposition teams. Our young squad gave us good feedback from these two games. However, we are not happy with the results, we will never be happy with losing all games. I think there are a lot of positives that we can take so that in future we really are able to get results against top teams in the country,” said Coach Malebye.
Fighting for a bronze medal, UJ took on Maties on Thursday, narrowly losing by a 5-3 final score. The Orange Army settled for a fourth position.
“This tournament required mental. Playing in the heat and put such a good performance against some of the best universities, is really difficult. Big up to the boys for giving it their all, I am super proud of them,” said Caleb Kruger, UJ men’s first team Captain.