The Varsity Cup and Interschools tournament
The Varsity Cup concept, which sees South Africa’s biggest rugby universities pitted against one another, was conceived in 2007 by François Pienaar, Duitser Bosman and Derek Carstens.
“The idea was to create an intervarsity rugby tournament for South Africa’s leading rugby-playing universities, but also to offer an experience to spectators that is about far more than just the match played on the field,” says Pienaar, the CEO of Asem. “We looked at the model of American college football in the United States and decided that we would implement similar innovative ideas in the Varsity Cup competition.”
He refers to the concept as “sportainment”. The tournament kicked off in 2008, featuring eight universities and a headline sponsor in FNB. Since then it has expanded into four tournaments.
Impressively, 25 Springboks, 27 Springbok Sevens players and 85 junior Springboks have come through the Varsity Cup system in the past nine seasons, including the likes of current Springboks Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth.
Pienaar says the tournament has evolved into a competition that not only provides an alternate stream for professional rugby players to be scouted and given a second opportunity, but one that draws mass crowds and TV viewership because of how attractive the competition is both on and off the field.
He explains that universities such as Maties have an attendance of between 14 000 and 17 000 on Monday nights: “On an average Monday night we have in excess of 35 000 in attendance across the seven various host venues.”
Another rugby property in South Africa is the Interschools tournament, which has been running since 2013. It is a tournament of 12 games between top rugby schools in South Africa. These games feature match-ups such as Paarl Boys vs Paarl Gymnasium, Grey College vs Grey High School and Grey College vs Paul Roos. The tournament has a large following and attracts big audiences.