KATLEGO PHEEHA

Not long after the beginning of the academic year, university students from all across the country were treated to yet another exciting season of FNB Varsity Cup rugby, a season which saw Tuks reach the finals of the competition for the very first time. The season unearthed some quality young players whom the provincial clubs of South African rugby noticed. Tuks was among the teams to have their players called up to the big leagues.

The FNB Varsity Cup has been the stepping stone for many young rugby players into professional rugby. This year, Tuks saw some of its players break into the Absa Currie Cup. Wesley Dunlop, the man who captained Tuks to their first ever FNB Varsity Cup final, was among the players to play professional league rugby this season. His dream to sign for the Blue Bulls was realised before the 2011 Absa Currie Cup season started as he was drafted to join the Pretoria-based squad. Dunlop, however, did not get a chance to play for the Blue Bulls as he was loaned to the Platinum Leopards where he has been a regular starter at fly-half and finished the season as the Leopard’s leading point scorer. “There isn’t that big of a difference between the two (Currie Cup and Varsity Cup).  The Currie Cup is just a lot more physical and as for the speed of the game it’s similar. Both are wonderfully fun and exciting,” Dunlop told Perdeby. “It was a wonderful feeling (being drafted) especially just being in the setup and going through everything that all the world’s best players from the Bulls go through.”

Playing alongside Dunlop at the Leopards this season was former Tuks teammate Luviyiso Lusaseni. Lusaseni stamped his authority at the Leopards as a great ball carrier and has given an impressive performance at line-outs. Despite falling ill, Lusaseni played in every Absa Currie Cup match for the Leopards this season. He scored his only points of the tournament with a try against the Pumas and has cemented his place as the first-choice lock with theNorth Westteam. Last year, Lusaseni played for the Griquas in the Absa Currie Cup and the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup. In 2008, he representedSouth Africaat the u/21 IRB Junior World Championship.

Another former Tuks player that made his mark this season is open-side flanker Warwick Tecklenberg, who played his first Absa Currie Cup tournament with the Blue Bulls, a team he played for in the Vodacom Cup in 2008. “It was a dream come true and something I have been working towards for a long time,” he told Perdeby.  Tecklenberg became a starter as a replacement for Dewald Potgieter, who was injured during the tournament. Tecklenberg was one of a host of young players that coach Pine Pienaar put his faith in during the absence of the Springbok players. “What we see here are young guys who will get an opportunity and I believe they will be hungry enough to put their hands up,” said Pienaar ahead of their game against the Griquas earlier this season.

Due to the demanding nature of provincial rugby, the players often have to choose between rugby and finishing their degrees. The latter is often the one that is sacrificed. As aspiring professional rugby players, they often have to choose between the security that comes with a degree or the uncertain but exciting prospect of being full-time athletes. “It’s up to the Bulls next year as to where I stand and where I will be playing. Studies … I don’t think I’ll carry on but I am going to try,” said Wesley Dunlop, who was a BSportsSci student at UP before being signed by the Bulls. Whether or not they will return to the place where it all started is still uncertain for the Tuks rugby players who have found a place in professional rugby. Their days of playing before an adoring crowd of fellow students may be gone for good but their lives as rugby players are surely just beginning.

Photo: Keith Pyper

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