Sango Xamlashe Tuks

Sango Xamlashe posing with the Varsity Cup trophy alongside Tuks coaches. photo- @Varsity Cup

Exclusive: “We felt like we had unsettled business”- Tuks captain Sango Xamlashe reflects on Varsity Cup victory

Barely 48 hours ago, the University of Pretoria (Tuks) gave the University of Cape Town (UCT) their first taste of defeat, en-route to captain Sango Xamlashe lifting the Varsity Cup trophy

Sango Xamlashe Tuks

Sango Xamlashe posing with the Varsity Cup trophy alongside Tuks coaches. photo- @Varsity Cup

Barely 48 hours ago, the University of Pretoria (Tuks) gave the University of Cape Town (UCT) their first taste of defeat, en-route to captain Sango Xamlashe lifting the Varsity Cup trophy

It was a harsh result for UCT to swallow having played excellent rugby all tournament to ensure they entered the final unbeaten a subsequently as favourites. But Xamlashe and his Tuks teammates made good use of their home advantage with a 34-27 victory ensuring the Varsity Cup trophy would remain in Pretoria

In an exclusive interview with The South African publication, Xamlashe revealed that the feat of being a Varsity Cup champion still felt surreal to him.

Xamlashe explains the feeling of being a Varsity Cup champion

“Firstly, not real. I woke up this morning (Tuesday) and took a moment to think, and asked myself what does this mean now?  You know sometimes when you never thought you’d get to a certain place, and you finally got there, you end up asking yourself, what does this mean now? So yeah my head is all over the place, it’s so weird, there are a lot of emotions but I’m going to take it each day as it comes and not think about it too much” Xamlashe said

Entering this season’s Varsity Cup, Xamlashe’s appointment as captain was far from just a regular instalment from Tuks. In being given the responsibility to lead out the Pretoria-based institution, Xamlashe did not only shoulder the weight of his teammates and those associated with the institution but his historic feat as their first black captain meant he was representing a whole demographic of people simultaneously. But he admits he couldn’t let the tag weigh down heavily on him

Xamlashe was Tuks’ first black captain, explains significance of the tag to him

“I think the concept of being the first black captain of Tuks wasn’t something I thought about too much” Xamlashe admitted. He then continued to speak about the double-edged sword that tag automatically comes with.

 “But what I did think about often is that there are two sides. One hoping you don’t do well to prove a particular point, and the other side that wants you to do well so you can give hope to others who wish to be in that position one day. Those that come after, to believe that it is possible, no matter what race they are if you give someone of merit the opportunity they will deliver and that’s what I did for the boys” said Xamlashe

Admits to pre-match jitters

Xamlashe reveals that there indeed nerves on the day before, and reveals a call that heightened the euphoria of the occasion

“Yoh! On the day before I got a call from someone very important, telling me He is giving this one (Varsity Cup trophy) to me, I must just go fetch it. first of all, I didn’t expect this call, the number wasn’t even saved! And what he said was so distinct, in the moment I found it hard to grapple with. That evening I felt a lot of pressure because I was like ‘Yoh! This guy is really expecting me to go out and win this thing, what if I don’t?’”

He admits that it overwhelmed him a bit.

“I then started to have doubts, like it was crazy! But like I said, he said he gave it to me and I felt it” Xamlashe continued

Playing against an unbeaten UCT side

UCT had swept aside any opponent that they had come across before the final, with many expecting them to do the same Tuks who had already lost twice during this year’s Varsity Cup. Xamlashe reveals that the team were far from intimidated by UCT’s tournament and instead relished their meeting with them.

“You know, the camp itself was very hungry to play against UCT. We had something that we didn’t settle and that’s what everybody was feeling. Forget the final, that’s not where our thoughts were. People were thinking UCT and they were on a high horse and everyone was saying they were favourites and were on a winning streak, and yeah truly so” Xamlashe said.

However, Xamlashe made mention of something people may have forgotten in the process, including Tuks’ pedigree

“The other thing is they hadn’t played us and no one had really put them under pressure, and I knew although we had lost games, I knew that our team exerts the most pressure in the tournament, that’s just who we are. Big teams make it very difficult and if we arrive on a good day, teams will find it very difficult to score against us, our defence is immense thanks to our well-primmed kicking game” Said Xamlashe

Whichever way one looks at it, finals are usually tight affairs, regardless of the form guide, with the euphoria of a showpiece often levelling the playing field. The team that draws first blood usually finds itself in the ascendency, Xamlashe concurs, lamenting the importance of Tuks crossing the whitewash first.

Importance of early advantage

“The first try is obviously very important in any game. I think what people don’t know is that rugby is a mental game and obviously, the mind plays a huge role on the body. So that first try was important because it puts that thought in the opposition that “They’re in the lead now, we have to chase the game now chasing a game in any sport is very difficult, luckily for us, we back our defence” Xamlashe said.

Tuks quickly retook the lead courtesy of captain fantastic Xamlashe, soon after UCT had levelled the scores. He then speaks on the significance of that try and the next one too

“Obviously my try was a critical one to extend the lead, as well as the try just before half time so it’s very crucial in those moments to keep the scoreboard ticking,” said the Tuks skipper.

Pre-match team talk

Xamlashe also recalls the team talk before the game

“ I fully remember hearing that it doesn’t have to be a close game. Those type of words coming from management show that we had the ability to dominate UCT and that we shouldn’t hold back. And you saw us in the first 20 minutes, we came out blazing! It was a pity we started slowing down and started backing our defence to do the rest of the work because it took a lot out of us” he said

In the end, Xamlashe acknowledges that it was a close game, but where does he feel Tuks won it eventually?

“I think in the first half. Like I said a 31-10 lead at halftime in a final, so it’s a mental edge. And for UCT they had a mammoth task, I mean coming back from half time having to score almost 20 points to beat us”.

Reserved praise for UCT

He then praises their effort.

“They came close to doing so, they really tried. I think their substitution flyhalf really picked up the tempo. They really did try to push that ball wide as much as possible but we managed to keep them at bay and our defence was just immaculate and we were really in charge in that aspect.”

Even though Tuks had lost two games in the Varsity Cup campaign already before the final, Xamlashe believes that proved to be an advantage to them in the end and one that paid off.


“People always think a season should be smooth sailing and I’ve never believed in that. I think losing for us was very difficult to swallow because we’d have to go home and revise how we would go forward and I think we learnt a lot from that, and a wounded dog is very dangerous”

In tournaments like these, making the victory possible requires more than just the playing personnel and Xamlashe acknowledges the role played by those behind the scenes for Tuks

Lauds each member of the backroom staff individually

“The coaching staff was immense, I think starting from Sanet Van Zyl, our physio, she has been amazing really world-class person who just graduated with her Masters in Physiotherapy while in our bubble so it shows you the level of professionalism she has”

Xamlashe was determined to not leave anybody out.

“Our conditioning coach, he is crazy (laughs) everything he does is extreme and at the best level. He makes the most out of our resources and is definitely world-class. He is always pushing us in the gym and field and never feels sorry for us and I think we one of the fittest teams this campaign and it’s all his work”

Xamlashe also had high praise for the teams’ life coach, a role he feels was immense for the player’s mental well-being and one that should be a permanent feature in all sporting codes going forward.

Laments importance of a life coach

“ Not many teams have one and it makes a huge difference! He has done a lot of things for us that have improved our mental capacity and ability and believing in ourselves. Life coaches are very important in this new age for all sports teams, especially in that space. Just having to express our concerns mentally off the field to help us be sane on it”

He then showed appreciation for the backline and forwards coaches, for their contributions to a well-oiled machine


“ Our backs coach, coach Rudy has been amazing! He has always backed us, giving us the opportunity to express ourselves and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. Coach Reggie Botha, he’s got this calm element and has always backed our forward and the trust he gave them to do the job within the guidelines just shows the professionalism we had in this team”.

Xamlashe then admits that he wasn’t always convinced by the defensive coach’s tactics initially, but eventually saw the light.

“Coach John is world-class and I think everyone is well acquainted with him from his time in the Springboks. His defensive methods, I had a bit of an argument about earlier on but quickly bought into them because I started seeing that he was trying to sell to us and you can see we bought into it very well and benefitted in the long run”

Special praise for the Tuks head coach

He then reserved special praise for the head coach Nico Luus and reveals a special bond and conversation they had prior.

“I don’t even know where to start. He has really backed me from the beginning. I remember he said to me if anyone, it would be me who would lead us to win this Varsity Cup and I guess he didn’t miss there, I mean here we are, we’ve got the trophy with us and he’s a happy many today I’m sure he is over the moon. He is a great man-manager and has been amazing the whole season and patient with us

He trusted my abilities and consulted me in a lot of decisions coaches don’t normally consult players with. He is a real leader of men and I’m certain that his coaching career will also kick on from here”

Message to his teammates

Xamlashe also reserved a special mention for his Tuks teammates.

“We did it, boys! Well done! It’s insane to think that at some stage we didn’t think we had it in us and things turn around for us. When the pressure came, we were able to withstand it. I think after losing two games in one bubble and started writing us off, but we never wrote ourselves off. We knew what the mission was, we stuck to the plan and process and what we believed in and I’m proud of the boys for their willingness to keep pushing when others said we wouldn’t make it”.

What is next for Xamlashe?

Xamlashe is not a stranger to the professional set-up, having represented both the Cheetahs and the Blue Bulls at age-group level. He was also part of the Bulls side that won the 2019 u21 Rugby Championships. Does he harbour ambitions of getting a professional contract after this success?

“I’m going to finish my studies now this semester, any options that come forth now with regards to my career I’m willing to take with both hands. I haven’t really spoken to my agent that much about it, it will be interesting to see what type of conversation that will be next week. But, yeah I’m just happy at this point and ready to take the next step in my career and challenge myself so that I can get better. I don’t think I should stop here” concluded Xamlashe.