In the first of a series from SA Rugby magazine, DYLAN JACK looks at the Varsity Cup season that was and the best back and forward from each team.
The 2020 edition of the Varsity Cup looked set to be one of the most closely contended in recent memory.
After six rounds of the tournament, Maties had continued their unbeaten run from the last two seasons, but the defending champions did look vulnerable a times as they had narrow wins against UP-Tuks and the University of Cape Town.
Despite a compelling start to the ever-popular varsity competition, the season was postponed indefinitely due to the impact of the coronavirus.
SA Rugby is in ongoing deliberations on the reworked domestic rugby calendar and as a result, the Varsity Cup Board reconvened towards the end April 2020 to reassess the situation and take a final decision on the 2020 competition,’ the board said in a statement in mid-March.
In the latest update, Varsity Sports organisers took the decision to suspend all tournaments – including rugby – for the remainder of the year after stakeholders agreed that it is unlikely that normal sports will resume in 2020.
Should the Varsity Cup and Shield not resume this year, the tournaments will be declared incomplete with no overall winner.
As NMU Madibaz had already achieved an unassailable log-points tally on the combined Varsity Shield log of 2019 and 2020, they will be promoted to the Varsity Cup. There will be no team relegated from the Varsity Cup competition and no promotion/relegation match between the Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield competitions. Therefore, there will be 10 teams in the Varsity Cup for 2021.
Despite the disappointment of a season cut short, there are plenty of players to watch with a view to the future.
Back: Anton du Toit
Much has already been said about the third Du Toit brother. Helping Maties seal back-to-back Varsity Cup titles in his debut season showed that he has the talent to make it at the top level. Unlike his older brothers, Pieter-Steph and Johan, Du Toit plays at fullback, but he has a similar build with a cannon of a boot and a mean sidestep. Du Toit did struggle against UCT, showing that he still has a bit to learn and still has to get that consistency in his game. That should come with experience. What is undeniable is his talent.
Forward: Ben-Jason Dixon
Maties captain Ben-Jason Dixon should arguably have been a more consistent member of the Stormers’ Super Rugby squad this year. The lock has been near-unplayable at the lineouts this year and memorably caused franchise teammate David Meihuizen a headache in this area when Maties and UCT clashed in Stellenbosch. The former Junior Springbok took over as Maties captain this year and has led his team through some tight spots. If he can continue his form, a permanent place in the Stormers’ squad won’t be too far away.
Back: Theo Boshoff
The Bulls’ academy of flyhalves may have its next big star in Boshoff. The 21-year-old helped the Bulls win the U21 Championship and before that was instrumental to UP-Tuks winning the Varsity Cup Young Guns tournament in 2017. Boshoff has carried that through into his first Varsity Cup season, scoring 23 points on debut – including a match-winning penalty after the hooter – against NWU in the opening match of the season.
Forward: Hanru Sirgel
Possibly UP-Tuks’ unsung hero this season, Sirgel gets through a lot of dirty work at the breakdown and in defence. As one of the survivors from 2019, he has used his experience well this year in an effective loose trio. Sirgel’s performances have started to be recognised by the Bulls as he was part of the U21 side that won the U21 Championship and was subsequently named U21 Forward of the Year.
Back: Aidynn Cupido
Having made the move north after starring for the University of the Western Cape in 2018 and 2019, Cupido was desperate to fulfil his ambitions of playing provincial rugby. Given how instrumental Cupido was to UWC’s promotion to the Varsity Cup from the Shield, the signing was an absolute steal for Wits. It is no surprise the Cupido slotted straight in and helped Wits to an unbeaten start to the season, with four wins and a draw. With competition tight at flyhalf, Cupido was used at inside centre, a position in which he is more than comfortable, and he was the creative hub for the team. He will be hoping that he has done enough to convince the Lions to give him an opportunity.
Forward: Emmanuel Tshituka
The younger brother of Lions forward Vincent, Emmanuel made his Varsity Cup debut for Wits this year. In a powerful loose trio with Constant Beckerling and former SA Schools captain Travis Gordon, Tshituka has caught the eye with his work rate, especially on defence. A particular highlight was his Man of the Match performance in the crucial win against UP-Tuks, a game in which he put in a number of bone-shaking tackles.
Back: James Tedder
When Tedder plays well, the rest of Ikey Tigers team tends to follow suit. Once contracted to the Sharks as an U19, Tedder decided to leave Durban and pursue a degree while still keeping alive his dreams of becoming a professional rugby player. The Bcom student possesses an accurate boot and has held his nerve to pull UCT through a number of tight games. He also also more than comfortable taking the ball to the line and can slot in at fullback if needed.
Forward: David Meihuizen
Meihuizen showed his ability to step up at a senior level when he was brought in from the cold to make a surprise Super Rugby debut off the bench against the Sunwolves in 2019, when the Stormers were suffering an injury crisis at lock. The 22-year-old has been singled out by Stormers coach John Dobson as a ‘phenomenal talent’ and has been the subject of interest from Scotland Rugby, who wanted to make him their next project player. Meihuizen has all the ability to make a success at a higher level.
Back: Chunier van Rooyen
The potential of this utility back has already been highlighted in a previous edition of this magazine and he remains one of NWU’s most promising players. Van Rooyen can double between flyhalf and fullback, has an awesome kicking game and an uncanny ability to score tries. Having made his provincial debut for the Leopards in the Currie Cup First Division, Van Rooyen will be hoping to be able to build on that for a move to a bigger union.
Forward: Malembe Mpofu
Even though he has the nickname ‘Itoje’ (after England star Maro Itoje), Mpofu has taken some time to come of age. The lock attended Crawford International Ruimsig, a private school in Roodepoort hardly known for producing Springboks, and only took his rugby further when he was given a bursary to study at UJ in 2014. It took him a while to make his Varsity Cup debut too, as he had to wait until 2017. After completing his law degree, he decided to pursue a postgraduate in Business Management at NWU, and has now increasingly makes an impact on the competition.
Photo: Dominic Barnardt / Varsity Sports