Maties will begin their Varsity Cup title defence with a tough encounter against Wits in Stellenbosch on Monday, while UJ kick off the competition against Pukke, UCT host the newly-promoted UWC and Tuks take on CUT.
Can Maties, so dominant, unbeaten all last year to win their third title and first since 2010, be caught this year?
The Stellenbosch team will be missing several key players from last year’s campaign, with the likes of former captain Niel Oelofse, flyhalf Chris Smith – now with the Pumas – and star tighthead prop Neethling Fouche among those not involved this year.
However, their starting lineup still boasts an interesting balance of Varsity Cup veterans and exciting young stars, many of whom who were blooded into the team last season. An all-new front row of Ricky Nwagbara, HJ Luus and Piet-Louw Strauss get the opportunity to show what they have learned, while young flyhalf and former SACS captain Jordan Chait gets his chance to take the playmaking mantle from Smith.
Edwill van der Merwe, who has been shifted to fullback for Monday’s clash, as well as wing Duncan Saal and loose forwards Chris Massyn, Johan van Niekerk and Stefan Streicher, will all add plenty of experience around the youth of the match day 23, which sees seven players make their debuts for Maties.
Wits, meanwhile, will be well aware of the pressure now on them to replicate and perhaps even better their efforts after making the playoffs last year. The Johannesburg side has managed to keep a good portion of their squad from the previous season, with captain Constant Beckerling again leading the team.
With Junior Springbok Tyrone Green called up to the Lions, promising flyhalf Christian Humphries will wear the No 15 jersey, opening up a place for Kurt Webster to form the halfback partnership with scrumhalf Krappie van der Berg.
Monday will also see a Cape derby between the ambitious UCT and Chester Williams’ UWC side, who will be playing in their first Varsity Cup season.
The Ikey Tigers are keen to continue their growth as a squad after a couple of struggling seasons since they last laid hands on the trophy in 2014. UCT coach Christiaan Esterhuizen has emphasised that his side will need to improve on attack while continuing to hold their own defensively, as they did when they narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2018.
Meanwhile, UWC will want to show that they belong in the competition after winning the Varsity Shield in 2017 and 2018. William’s team boast a deadly backline that includes Sevens Academy speedster Kurt-Lee Arendse and fullback Tristan Leyds, brother of Stormers regular Dillyn.
Earlier in the day, the other standout fixture features UJ under new head coach Dewey Swartbooi, playing their first game of the season against Pukke in a repeat of last season’s semi-final.
After a disastrous 2018, a young Tuks team will begin their rebuild under Nollis Marais against CUT, who have replaced head coach Tiaan Liebenberg with Pieter Bergh, Liebenberg staying on as assistant coach.
Shimlas have a bye in round one and will start their season when they travel to UWC next week.
UJ vs NWU
UJ Stadium, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 16:45pm (SuperSport 1)
UJ – 15 Darryle Kameel, 14 Odwa Nkunjana, 13 Siphesihle Radebe, 12 Cyprian Nkomo, 11 Shaun Williams, 10 Jeanluc Cilliers, 9 Jack Hart, 8 Dian Schoonees, 7 Edwin Jansen, 6 Ngwekazi Ncusane, 5 Adriaan Bester, 4 Malembe Mpofu, 3 Stephan Bhasera, 2 Naas du Plessis, 1 Kayden Kiewiet.
Subs: 16 Hloni Mputhi, 17 Bierre Rabie, 18 Coenrad Vrey, 19 Siyabonga Masuku, 20 Siya Luwaca, 21 Wynand Botha, 22 Tyreeq February, 23 Tatendaishe Mujawo.
NWU – 15 Shane van Rooyen, 14 AP van Nieker, 13 Evardi Boshoff, 12 Akhona Nela, 11 Lungelo Gosa, 10 Schalk Hugo, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Wian Conradie, 7 Wandi Mazibuko, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Danny du Plooy, 4 Johan Retief, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen (c), 1 Tshegofatso Moloto.
Subs: 16 Marius Stander, 17 Douglas Bruce-Smith, 18 Matimu Manganyi, 19 Reuben de Plooy, 20 Edward Haas, 21 Sylvester Hassien, 22 BF van Staden, 23 Mitchelle van der Merwe.
UCT vs UWC
UCT Rugby fields, Cape Town
Kick-off: 6:30pm (not televised)
UCT – 15 Darian Hock, 14 Reitumetse Mogoje, 13 James Tedder, 12 Robbie Ball, 11 Thobekani Buthelezi, 10 Lohan Lubbe, 9 Stef de Gouveia, 8 Nyasha Tarusenga, 7 Josh Moon, 6 Nama Xaba (c), 5 David Meihuizen, 4 Gary Porter, 3 Simon Raw, 2 Cuan Hablutzel. 1 Ashwyn Adams.
Subs: 16 Ntando Mpofana, 17 Thomasz Rosenworth, 18 Brenton Greaves, 19 Duncan Saffy, 20 Tawi Mutuma, 21 Kyle Bowman, 22 Michael Brink, 23 Siba Mzanywa.
UWC – 15 Tristan Leyds, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Lubelo Scott, 12 Lyle Hendricks, 11 Andre Manuel, 10 Aidynn Cupido, 9 Clayton Daniels, 8 Adrian Paarwater (c), 7 Reece Bocks, 6 Tyler Gessler, 5 Curtly Thomas, 4 Pieter-Steyl Swanepoel, 3 Justin Theys, 2 Jacques van Zyl, 1 Luvo Bazi.
Subs: 16 Luan de Randt, 17 Alexander Mbete, 18 Matthew le Roux, 19 Jaen-Louis de Lange, 20 Moeganmat Kannemeyer, 21 Keagan Fortune, 22 Juanré de Klerk, 23 Hendrik Pretorius.
TUKS vs CUT
Tuks Stadium, Pretoria
Kick-off: 6:30pm (not televised)
Tuks – 15 Damian Bonaparte, 14 Dewald Naude, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Wian van Niekerk, 11 Ciaran Dayaram, 10 Tinus de Beer, 9 Theo Maree, 8 Denzil Hill, 7 Hanru Sirgel, 6 Stephan Smit, 5 Marius Verwey (c), 4 Brian Leitch, 3 Denver Prins, 2 Werner Fourie, 1 Etienne Janeke.
Subs: 16 Cabous Eloff, 17 Llwellyn Claasens, 18 Bart le Roux, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Ewart Potgieter, 21 Romeo Eksteen, 22 Vaughen Isaacs, 23 Irvin Ali.
CUT – 15 Jason Raubenheimer, 14 Dimitrio Tieties, 13 Ruan Wasserman, 12 Heinrich Bitzi, 11 Rassie Breedt, 10 Marc Morrison, 9 Nicky Hattingh, 8 Rayno Nel, 7 Luvuyo Ndevu, 6 Ruan Smit, 5 Sylvester Makakole, 4 SJ Wessels, 3 Henco Smit, 2 Anrich Alberts, 1 Edward Davids.
Subs: 16 Ruben Cross, 17 Quintin Vorster, 18 Tebogo Masemola, 19 Brendon Fortuin, 20 Ruben van Rensburg, 21 Andre Hanekom, 22 Jan Kotze, 23 Cohen Jasper.
MATIES vs WITS
Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
Kick-off: 7pm (SuperSport 1)
Maties – 15 Edwill van der Merwe, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Cornel Smit, 12 Chris Smit, 11 Munier Hartzenberg, 10 Jordan Chait, 9 Logan Boonzaaier, 8 Stefan Streicher, 7 Chris Massyn (c), 6 Johann van Niekerk, 5 Jordan Sesink-Clee, 4 Bernard Jansen, 3 Piet-Louw Strauss, 2 HJ Luus, 1 Ricky Nwagbara.
Subs: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Wayrin Losper, 18 Leon Lyons, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Mitchell Carstens, 21 Brendon Nell, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Thoko Seerane.
Wits – 15 Christian Humphries, 14 Kwanele Ngema, 13 Yanga Hlalu, 12 AJ van Blerk, 11 Sicelo Champion, 10 Kurt Webster, 9 Krappies van den Berg, 8 Phillip Krause, 7 Cal Smid, 6 Constant Beckerling (c), 5 Conor Brockschmidt, 4 Kevin du Randt, 3 Keagan Glade, 2 CJ Conradie, 1 Bheki Shongwe
Subs: 16 Justin Brandon, 17 Craig Hume, 18 Reynard Cronje, 19 Pascal Snyman, 20 Sipho Siboza, 21 Ruan Cloete, 22 Jared Fuller, 23 Neil Nyembe.
Photo: Luke Thorrold/Varsity Cup