The two-day Varsity Sevens Festival (4-5 October) kicks off today at the Pirates Club in Johannesburg with the best university sevens teams clashing for the coveted trophy.
Pool A – The Two-Horse Race:
Teams: UP-Tuks, Wits, UFS, UFH
Between defending champions UP-Tuks and Kovsies they have eight Varsity 7s semi-final appearances and three titles, making them the obvious favourites to clinch the top two spots in the group.
Tournament returnees UFH and second years, Wits complete the group, but a lack of pedigree suggests any upset would be the longest of long shots.
The best-of-the-best clash, meanwhile, will be at 14:08 in Round 3 (suitably) when UP-Tuks meet Kovsies. History in the tournament, and particularly when there’s something riding on the result, favours the boys from the University of the Free State.
Back in 2013, Kovsies cruised past the Stripe Generation 17-0 in the semi-final. Significantly, they upgraded to gold in 2015, by beating UP-Tuks 24-19 in Cape Town.
UP-Tuks, however, are the defending champions and will look to feed off the confidence of getting the title monkey off their back.
Players to watch:
UP-Tuks: Dewald Naudé serves as a human wrecking ball with his low-sense of gravity and blistering pace.
Wits: Yanga Hlalu is a magician with ball in hand and has a knack for seeing space.
UFS: Gustav Meyer is hard as nails and will be tough to bring down.
UFH: Aphiwe Rilityana is UFH’s pace man and someone the rest of Pool A will be marking.
Pool B – The Pool of Death:
Teams: Madibaz, NWU, UCT, UJ
With Madibaz, NWU, UCT and UJ all drawn together, picking out likely group winners is anyone’s guess.
Having just been pipped to the title last year, UJ will be confident that they have the goods to emerge top from this ‘Group of Death’. Of course, the Orange Army were going for back-to-back wins before UP-Tuks snuck by them in the closing stages of the final at Pirates last October. With two further semi-final appearances (in 2013 and 2015), it’s clear UJ know how to manage tournament 7s play.
That is not immediately evident for NWU and, particularly, UCT – whose playing resources suggest they should be regular contenders for the Varsity 7s title. In NWU’s case, the best they can show is consecutive semi-final losses between 2015-17 – with the first two ending in recoveries to claim third place. Last year, though, the boys in purple finished a lowly seventh.
The boys from Nelson Mandela University have largely underwhelmed in the tournament too, but then last year finished third to show that they are more than just also-rans. Their mid-day clash against s plucky UCT could be the match of the group.
Players to watch:
Madibaz: The experienced Riaan Esterhuizen is captain fantastic for the Madibaz, his cool head will bring a lot of calm to the Madibaz side.
UCT: Playing at fullback for UCT in the FNB Varsity Cup, Darian Hock will bring a lot of pace and tactical ability to UCT.
UJ: A legend of Varsity 7s, Odwa Nkunjana will be at the centre of UJ’s attacking pattern this tournament. Expect his name on the top-try scorers list at the end of
Pool C – The Cape Pool:
Teams: Maties, CPUT, UWC, WSU
Much like their pedigree in the 15-man game, the Maroon Machine have an enviable record in Varsity 7s. They have featured in all six previous editions of the tournament and boast three titles.
UWC have also featured in all previous editions of Varsity 7s, with mixed success. Apart from that surprise run to the final in 2016 and fourth place finish last year at Pirates (when Madibaz edged them 24-19 following a sudden death try), UWC have finished either sixth or seventh.
That said, they should have too much firepower for the other two Group C teams, CPUT (who made their tournament bow last year and finished eighth) as well as WSU who have only managed 10th-place in each of their three Varsity 7s campaigns.
Players to watch:
Maties: Morne Taljaard acts as Maties’ play maker and possesses a wickedly deceptive side-step and is adept at putting his team mates into space.
CPUT: Randy Brinkhuis was a super star for CPUT in their Varsity Shield winning season and it should be no different in the Varsity 7s.
UWC: Another player who tore it up in the Varsity Cup, Tristan Leyds will be UWC’s talisman going into the tournament.
WSU: Lusanda Xakwana’s leadership will be vital for the Eastern Cape side. He will lead WSU’s electric pattern of play.
For fixture and results, look here: http://varsitysportssa.com/fixtures/varsity-7s-2018-fixtures-results/
Photo: Kevin Sawyer