The 2014 Varsity Rugby season kicked-off in grand style at De Zalze Golf Club on Monday, with the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International moving into its seventh year of existence with some exciting innovations planned for this year.
And the 2014 season promises to be another jam-packed one, with the Varsity Shield tournament getting underway on Monday, January 27 and the Varsity Cup starting a week later (on February 3).
Of course, the Young Guns and Steinhoff Koshuisrugby competitions will again complete the line-up this year – starting on February 10 and 17, respectively.
Twenty-three Varsity Rugby matches will be televised in 2014 – out of a total of 84 fixtures taking place through the Varsity Cup, the Varsity Shield, Varsity Young Guns and the Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships – with the 2014 Varsity Rugby Grand Finals day taking place on Monday, April 7.
However, the big news in 2014 sees the return of promotion/relegation – between the Cup and Shield – whilst the Varsity Cup tournament organisers have again opened the competition to experimentation with specially designed jerseys for props (in the Varsity Cup and Shield) and the employment of two referees (in the Varsity Cup only).
In another innovation this year, meanwhile, a new ‘Free Catch Rule’ will come into play in the 2014 Varsity Rugby competitions – adding to the free-flowing style of rugby employed in the various tournaments.
Simply put, a player can now mark the ball – when catching a kick on the full – anywhere on the field and not just in his own 22. The referees, however, will play advantage with any catch from the air and will be able to bring the catcher’s team back if they do not get advantage and award a free-kick to them.
Speaking about the special front row jerseys, Varsity Cup CEO Duitser Bosman explained: “We pride ourselves on innovation across the Varsity Rugby competitions and this is another step in the right direction to make the game enjoyable to watch and safer for the players. We’ve been lucky to have had valuable input from André Watson and Balie Swart and, of course, the blessing of SARU throughout this process.
“We have had 23-man squads in the Varsity Cup for four seasons now and we have not had one case of uncontested scrums since then. We are confident that these jerseys will provide a similar success story in the front row.”
And on the exciting advent of ‘double referees’ and the new ‘Free Catch Rule’, SARU CEO Jurie Roux commented: “We’re very excited about the opportunity to trial the two-referees’ system – which has been used in the Stellenbosch Koshuis League for some time now.
“The IRB have also been very supportive and we’re all excited to see if two referees can help make for a better product for everyone – the players, coaches and, of course, our valued spectators.
“I think the ‘Free Catch Rule’ has the potential to eradicate poor kicking and also enhance running rugby at the same time. It’s also a very exciting innovation for Varsity Rugby.”
FNB UP-Tuks will be hoping to defend their Cup title once again, having won the tournament in 2012 and 2013, but there will again be stiff competition from across the country’s top rugby universities
Tuks have a new head coach in the shape of former Blue Bulls and Griquas coach Pote Human, with five new coaches set to take the reigns in the Varsity Cup in 2014 – only FNB Wits’ Andy Royle, FNB UFS-Shimlas’ Michael Horak and the FNB Maties’ Chris Rossouw remaining from last year.
“There is no doubt that the Varsity Cup is giving both coaches and players the platform to show their worth before moving on,” said Roux, citing the likes of Chean Roux (Springboks), Nollis Marais (Blue Bulls), Matt Proudfoot (Stormers), John Dobson (Western Province) and Kevin Foote (Western Force) as some examples of Varsity Cup head coaches having moved on since being involved in the tournament at some point.
On the topic of coaches and players who have moved up the ranks since playing Varsity Rugby, a proud Bosman added: “We will always keep track of our graduates – a player like Eben Etzebeth immediately springs to mind – but it’s also worth noting that the Springboks ended last year with both tighthead props having been Varsity Cup players at one point.
“We’re immensely proud of such achievements, but, at the same time, we remain thankful to our sponsors, the universities and, of course, the supporters for their continued support of Varsity Rugby.”
* The FNB NMMU Madibaz will host the FNB Maties in Port Elizabeth on Monday, February 3 (2014) at 16h45, with defending champions FNB UP-Tuks hosting FNB UJ at 19h00 in the first of two televised matches in Round One.
The other two first-round matches taking place on February 3 will see the FNB Ikeys from UCT entertain the FNB NWU-Pukke in Cape Town at 17h00, whilst FNB UFS-Shimlas will host FNB Wits in Bloemfontein (at 19h00).
Whilst the Varsity Cup starts in the first week of February, the 2014 Varsity Shield competition starts a week before on January 27. Defending champions, FNB CUT, will host FNB UKZN in the first game of the season at the CUT Rugby Stadium (kick-off 16h45), with FNB UFH and FNB UWC playing at 19h00.