Defending champions face tough opener against UJ
THE North versus South battle will be the highlight of the opening day of the FNB Varsity Cup when Tuks host Maties at Loftus Versfeld tonight.
Defending champions Pukke will also have a tough encounter against the University of Johannesburg, while Wits will host the champions from two years ago Shimlas, also in Johannesburg.
The University of Cape Town will be at home against the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan at Florida Park in Ravensmead in the first of all the away games the Port Elizabeth based university will play this season due to the renovations at their home ground.
But all eyes will be on Loftus as the two biggest rivals in university sport lock horns in an encounter that could go a long way in ultimately determining who the champions for this the 10th season of the competition.
Tuks will be led by the experienced and explosive flank Ruan Steenkamp, and with a healthy spread of experienced players who have already been recognised by senior call ups to the Blue Bulls Currie Cup side, the hosts will be hoping for the perfect start to their season. “It is going to be tough against Maties but if we can get the basics right then is no reason why we cannot win,” said Steenkamp. Maties, on the other hand, will still be hurting from their 7-6 loss at the hands of Pukke last year on their home ground but they will start the season with renewed vigour with little change to coach Hawies Fourie’s side.
Junior Springbok Edwill van der Merwe has been released by the Stormers to play in the competition and along with captain Beyers de Villiers and other veterans Janco Venter and Kobus van Dyk, Maties will be a tough side to beat this year.
Pukke are under no illusion of how difficult it will be to defend their title and even though coach Johathan Mokuena has kept the spine of his team, he knows that they are facing a tough task.
“We know that FNB UJ is a very good team and I think playing against the defending champions each team will raise their standards in the hope to beat us,” said Mokuena.
“We don’t talk about the past. I’ve challenged my team management to do their preparation as if it was our first Varsity Cup. If we don’t start good, we will only make things more difficult for ourselves. So, although we claimed last year’s Varsity Cup or played in the previous three finals, it doesn’t count.”
Wits will be making their first appearance in the competition after being relegated two years ago and they will have to quickly adapt to the fast pace, especially against a Shimlas team that seemingly has an endless factory of talent.
Ikeys did not have the best of seasons last year and even though their squad is still littered with youngsters, they should be more competitive this year after picking up the necessary experience last year.
What will be important for Ikeys to do is to make sure they secure a good start to the season and coach Christiaan Esterhuizen says they have the belief within the squad to attain their goal.
“There really is a positive vibe around the camp. I’m hoping that this team will be more skilful and more mature,” Esterhuizen said.
“We’re super prepared for the game; we can’t do much more. All we need now is for the players to go out and execute everything on the field, but we really do have the belief that we can do well in this game. Our initial goal is to start well. We’ll sit down after our first two games and look at our goals again.”