The FNB Varsity Cup defending champions FNB Tuks have had a string of unwanted and surprising loses as they kicked off the defense of their title with a 19-17 home defeat to a plucky FNB Shimlas on 29 January. This was followed by a historic night in Johannesburg for the impressive FNB Wits outfit which recorded their first ever win over TuksRugby since the conception of the tournament.

Despite a valiant effort at the Danie Craven Stadium on a blustery Stellenbosch night, a gutsy UP-Tuks side slumped to their third successive defeat on 12 February, going down 24-16 to the men from the Cape. FNB Tuks also lost 23-13 to FNB Ikeys in round five.

With the reigning champions languishing at the foot of the table with a meager two bonus points, what has gone wrong with a team which, months ago, were hoisting the trophy above their head ?

Over the winter break, Tuks rugby went through a massive transition with the appointment of Dabeon Draghoender as the new Director of Coaching, and David Manuel as the coach of the Varsity Cup side. It would be too harsh to blame the poor start of the season on the new appointments. Considering the results haven’t matched the level of performance delivered by coach Manuel’s men, it is more likely that it is the old expression “second season syndrome” that is haunting the team.

Throughout sporting history, the only thing harder to do than to achieve success has been proved to be maintaining the success. This was the case for Chelsea’s defense of their Premier League title in the 2015-2016 season when the champions finished a dismal 10th. Another prime example of second seasons’ syndrome were the Springboks. After winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup they failed to live up to expectations and finished bottom of the Tri-Nations standings in 2008.

Will the UP-Tuks rugby side continue on their current trajectory and end up having a dismal season, a fate not uncommon to many sporting champions, or will they find a way back and mimic the defense of their title in the 2013 season? TuksRugby has all the ingredients to fight their way back up the log and qualify for the knock out stages as they have a young and hungry coach determined to prove himself, and a wide array of talent in their squad. A lot will depend on the form. A mercurially talented back three of Willem Strydom, Dewald Naude and Xolisa Guma will need to be backed up by the forwards, with the big men up front looking to finally stamp their mark on this season.

There has been enough fighting spirit and periods of excellent rugby shown by the Tuks side to stop Tuks supporters from going into a mad panic just yet, and although it is unlikely that we will relive the memories of a home final that ended in delight last year, it is far too premature to rule out the UP-Tuks side as of yet. FNB Tuks is set to play FNB NWU on 5 March at the Tuks Stadium.

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