It’s celebration time for South African rugby’s glitzy and highly successful student tournament. Get up to speed here.
It’s payoff line is “Rugby that Rocks”.
And given that its being played for a tenth time in 2017, the Varsity Cup tournament is clearly a concept that’s working.
Numerous players such as Juan de Jongh, Eben Etzebeth and Ruan Combrinck have graduated from student players to Springboks and the tournament has also been a hotbed for new rule innovations.
Here’s your definitive guide to this year’s edition.
How many teams are participating?
In it’s inaugural year in 2008, the Varsity Cup only had eight teams participating.
Now, the tournament boasts a substantial 17, divided into the main competition (Varsity Cup) and its second-tier (Varsity Shield).
Wits won last season’s Shield competition, which mean they’ll be promoted to the Cup, expanding the main draw to 9 teams (North West University, Free State, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, Central University of Technology, Wits).
The Shield competition is notable for its representation, where various institutions compete that can increase black player numbers.
Seven teams are on show in this division: Tshwane University of Techonology, University of the Western Cape, Rhodes, Fort Hare, KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Walter Sisulu.
Who are the defending champions?
NWU-Pukke controversially won last year’s title after beating Stellenbosch 7-6 in the final.
There was drama afterwards after it was alleged that Pukke had fielded in ineligible player – prop Bart le Roux.
According to the competition rules, a player is not allowed to participate as a first-year player in the respective competitions on more than one occasion.
But a long-winded investigation finally cleared the side.
As mentioned previously, Wits won the Shield.
The Varsity Cup is known for its rule innovations. What are the main changes this year?
There will be no more nine-point try anymore (thank goodness).
That bonus was awarded to any team that crossed the tryline from a move originating from their own half.
Yet that rule was criticised because it didn’t prepare the students for top-level rugby, where defences are far more secure.
In the top flight, you can’t constantly attack from your own half.
Another prominent rule change is the red card.
When a player receives one, his team will only play with 14 men for 20 minutes.
Afterwards, any player of the match squad – except the one sent off – is allowed to come back.
Are the organisers prepared for any #FeesMustFall disruptions?
Yes, according to CEO Duitser Bosman.
“Varsity Cup understands the challenges that the universities are facing, across the country. Contingency measurements have been put in place by each university after lengthy discussions with each vice chancellor. The universities have been very helpful and accommodating,” he said.
For example, Monday’s game between Tuks and Stellenbosch will be played at Loftus because LC de Villiers stadium is being used for student registration.
And UCT’s examinations are being written in their sports hall, so Ikeys and NMMU will be playing in Ravensmead.
What are round one’s fixtures (Monday 30 January)?
Wits v Shimlas at Wits – 16:45
Ikeys v Madibaz at Ravensmead – 18:30
Tuks v Maties at Loftus – 19:00
UJ v NWU-Puk at UJ Stadium – 19:00