|Determination to dig deep when it mattered most drove the University of Johannesburg to their first Varsity Sevens rugby title in Durban at the weekend.
Despite losing three and drawing one of their nine pool games, the UJ team fought back to power past North-West University and the University of Free State in the playoff games on Sunday.
After finishing fourth on the overall log after two days of action, UJ defeated NWU-Pukke 19-5 in the semifinals and Kovsies 32-5 in the final.
This came after they had lost 22-0 to Pukke in their opening match, followed by a 19-19 draw with Kovsies in another pool clash.
Coach Patrick Ross-Allen said later the turning point had come when they assessed their situation at the start of the second day.
“At that stage, we were eighth on the log. I don’t think many people rated our chances of making the playoffs.”
“We spoke about the situation and the guys started to work as a team, putting in great commitment and effort in each match.
“This tournament is not easy because you play 11 matches in three days. But our players showed what they were made of. I am so proud of their efforts.”
UJ’s results in the pool phase included a crucial 15-12 win over arch-rivals University of Pretoria. The score meant the teams ended level on the log, with the same points difference.
“Because we beat them we qualified for the top four, so that was a very important win,” said Ross-Allen.
“I always felt we could do something special in this tournament and when we heard we were in the semis, it strengthened the belief in the squad.
“They guys not only believed in themselves, they believed in the players next to them as well as in the structures we had put in place.”
He added that the team had peaked at the right time and also used the power play to perfection.
The power-play rules in Varsity Sevens allow each team to nominate a minute in which any tries scored are worth 10 points.
“When we took our power play in the final against Kovsies we scored two tries, so that was 20 points and it made a big difference.”
Ross-Allen felt the triumph would be a boost for UJ sevens rugby.
“This will send out a message about what we can do. It really means a lot to us in our efforts to promote this format of the game.”