It’s still early days, of course, but the weekend’s first round of Varsity Cup rugby promises a competition where the pre-tournament favourites cannot take anything for granted.
What was noticeable was that the this was closer to the initial envisaged concept of an inter-university competition between students, first mooted, planned and driven by François Pienaar, Duitser Bosman and Derek Carstens.
The contracting and ‘auctioning’ of players on a professional basis which followed after the first season in 2008, admittedly, did provide a very professional (and professionally run) competition. It also did much to inject new blood into the provincial system and even produced a few Springboks.
But then, this was nothing new. In days gone by, the usual university teams with ‘real’ students, did the same – from 1903 right through to the advent of the Varsity Cup.
▲ This weekend there were surprise victories in Round 1.
Defending champions Maties, the perpetual favourites who came into the competition with a string of 25 successive wins, were outplayed by Cape Town neighbours Ikeys who won 26-20; the Madibaz, surprised with their grit in going down to overwhelming favourites NWU-Eagles, 47-28.
Wits’ forwards were impressive in the tight pieces, sluggish in getting enough forwards to contest the breakdowns and perhaps too forward-focused to run the ball. The result was a deserved halftime lead that dissipated and vanished against a Tuks team that at the end ran their old Intervarsity foes ragged to post a 48-25 win that made the match look more lob-sided than it was.
And let’s not forget the stirling performance by UWC who drew with Shimlas, 28-all. Former Blitsboks coach Paul Treu showed his worth as 15s coach, totally wasted while he was at the WPRFU, where he was given little opportunity at the Stormers or WP. Shimlas tried as they might to snatch victory at the death but had to settle for a draw.
As was the case last year before the competition was suspended after six rounds, UJ were again the punching bags in their defeat by 46-13 against CUT Ixias, who promise to be a handful this year.
It is no secret that the change in the sport administration personnel of UJ and some unfortunate retrenchments led to a demise in virtually all the university’s major sports.
- In the main match on Sunday, the Wits backline didn’t have much opportunity (or inclination?) to show their pace on attack.
There also must be serious planning to shore up their defence. That allowed Tuks to do the running once their forwards started winning ball halfway through the second half.
Wits also allowed to many balls to be turned over at the breakdown which gave ammunition to the winners’ lively backs.
- The performance by CUT Ixias in the tournament opener was generally a pleasant surprise. They added to UJ’s winless record with a sixth consecutive Varsity Cup defeat for the Johannesburg following last year;s poor performances.
Five tries to one tell the story of Ixias domination and ability to create and finish on Sunday.
- In the main match on Monday, Ikeys showed confidence, scrummed the Maties into the ground when it was needed, used better options tactically and on attack and were full value for their win. Discipline by both sides will have to be upped if they wish to get to the play-offs with yellow cards the order of the day.
- Shimlas will also be a force going forward, but hard to work hard against a UWC team that, as one would expect from a side coached by Treu, ran the ball from everywhere.
UWC could surprise a few more fancied sides, but their forwards will have to add a little more finesse to their grit for that to happen.
- Madibaz needs to vastly improve their tight play. They were hammered in the scrums, and out-jumped in the lineouts and that simply wasn’t good enough against a well-rounded NWU-Pukke.
There was nevertheless enough to show that the Madibaz should not be under-estimated.
Fixtures for Thursday’s second round
The second round of the competition will be played will resume on Thursday, 8 April with five matches across two venues.
Loftus Versfeld Stadium will host three matches – Madibaz vs CUT (15:00), Wits vs UCT Ikeys (17:00) and UFS Shimlas vs NWU Eagles (19:00).
(broadcast live on the SuperSport Rugby channel (211).
The other two matches in Round 2 – Maties vs UWC (14:00) and UJ vs UP-Tuks (16:00) – will be played on the Tuks B-Field (streamed live on DStv Now (channel 245).