With Varsity Cup rugby around the corner, Perdeby takes a sneak peak at the teams and players set to rock this year’s edition.
The 2015 season was nothing short of intense, with the University of the Free State (Shimlas) clinching the title by sinking the University of the North West (Pukke) 63-33 in a fantastic final. The Free State side have retained the services of the joint leading try scorers Daniel Maartens and Gerhardus Olivier. The two loose-forwards played an instrumental role in Shimlas’ 2015 triumph.
The Central University of Technology (CUT Ixias) retained their spot in the competition despite finishing last season rooted to the bottom of the log. 2015 was a bad year for the then newly promoted Ixias, who lost all seven of their fixtures. They ended the season with a demoralising -333 point aggregate, conceding 57 tries in the process. CUT will be looking to redeem themselves as they go in search of their first ever Varsity Cup win. Another team that looked out of sorts last year was Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). They finished second from bottom with a solitary win that came at the expense of fellow stragglers CUT. The Madibaz have come close to making the final on two previous occasions, and perhaps this year might end their title drought, led by livewire scrum-half Ivan Ludick.
Despite having never won the title, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is a consistent threat in the Varsity Cup, exiting in the semis in 2013. However, UJ only managed to finish sixth on the log last year with three wins and four defeats, while surprisingly boasting the best defensive record in the tournament. This year they will look to the likes Aphiwe Dyanthi and Dominic Kroezen to add attacking flair to the team.
The University of Stellenbosch’s (Maties) three consecutive title triumphs from 2008 to 2010 may be long forgotten, as they have been struggling recently, but that does not discount them as title contenders this season. They came agonisingly close in 2014, only to be outdone by the defiant University of Cape Town (UCT Ikey Tigers) in a dramatic final. Maties finished the 2015 season mid-table with only three wins, but this year boasts a strong and vastly experienced forward pack which consists of loose-forward Justin Ben and lock Wilhelm Van der Sluys, among others.
After enjoying a good 2015 run, the Ikey Tigers lost out in the semis to eventual champions Shimlas. The two-time winners are no strangers to Varsity Cup glory, however. Well known for their explosive attacking rugby, the Ikey Tigers scored 32 tries in last year’s competition. Open-side flank Jason Klaasen was a colossus for UCT, winning the “forward that rocks” award. Warren Seals, who scored an impressive 81 points, will also be looking to reprise his role in the fly-half position.
UP-Tuks appeared to be overwhelming favourites heading into last year’s semis against NWU Pukke. They easily outmuscled Maties in the third round and gave a surgical performance against UJ, winning by 34-0. Despite all that domination, the Pretoria team was left lamenting after a major disappointment in the last minutes of the game. UP-Tuks had arguably the most menacing squad in the competition last year, but no such luxury will be afforded to them with many senior players having since moved on. They will have to make do without former captains Reniel Hugo and Wiaan Liebenberg, but the team will be well-represented by new captain Ruan Steenkamp, who leads with experience. Stalwart utility back Riaan Britz returns to the fray, alongside junior Springboks Tinus de Beer and Aston Fortuin. It will be a test of character for the relatively young and inexperienced squad, but they should do well under the watchful eye of head coach Pote Human.
Photo: Stefan Stander