The NWU Eagles finished a very respectable fourth in the 2021 Varsity Cup, losing to a formidable UCT side in the semi-finals. It was, however, a tournament in a different guise than the one to which spectators are accustomed.
Firstly, no spectators were physically present and the game took place in a bio-bubble in Pretoria, with games alternating between Loftus Versfeld and Tukkies.
NWU Eagles captain Lincoln Daniels explains the unique challenges of the 2021 Varsity Cup.
Can you explain to us how the bio-bubble worked?
There were very strict Covid-19 protocols. Most of the time we were in our team environments and for the rest, were limited to moving from Tukkies’ Future Africa campus to their rugby fields and the swimming pools where we did our recovery sessions.
How did the team adapt to these constraints?
Team management put in a lot of effort to make things as easy as possible for us. In addition to the rugby, there were board games, table tennis and a putt-putt carpet, so we had a lot of fun when not playing or practising. I think the fact that we realised why we were in a bubble made adapting to the situation a lot easier.
Some games were postponed and there were incidents (not from the NWU) of protocol breach. How did the team approach these setbacks?
We heard about the protocols that were broken. The NWU Eagles did everything in our power to abide by the rules and adhere to the protocols. It was something we prided ourselves on and it meant that we never had to face additional challenges.
What was the team’s tournament highlight?
There were a lot of highlights off the fields. One of them was the relationships that grew between the players, as well as between the players and coaches. So that was nice. On the field it was without a doubt the privilege of reaching the semi-finals.
What was your personal highlight?
My personal highlight was our victory against Wits. I had a crucial decision to make to win the game, and I decided that we should kick for posts. It was the biggest decision that I have taken as captain so far and I am overjoyed that it worked out well for us.
And low points?
Without a doubt the loss in the semi-final. It was a miserable result. We had a bit of an up-and-down tournament, but after we beat CUT (Central University of Technology) to reach the semis, we really thought we were in with a shot.
Did all these changes make the tournament harder than expected?
Definitely. But all the players and team management knew that we had to put in extra work and extra effort to make a success of the tournament.
How did you as captain handle the pressure?
As captain there was loads and loads of pressure, both on and off the field. With a coach like André Pretorius who acted as a mentor through the whole process, I was able to better assess situations and find solutions. He made it a lot easier. I also had a great “Captain’s Council” who aided me immensely.
Any last message for your team and coaching staff?
To the players, you are a great bunch of guys. You are great rugby players and great people. You were a really special group and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. I’ve never played in a team like this. The team and the coaches became like brothers to me.
To our coaches, I want to thank you for all the effort you put into our preparations before and during the tournament. There is so much gratitude for all your work and leadership.
Lincoln Daniels manned the NWU Eagles’ midfield with aplomb.
looks back at the 2021 Varsity Cup