De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons face tough opener against UJ

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOBENI

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.”

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