Varsity Cup manager Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi says the structure of the 2021 season will give more players an opportunity throughout the tournament. DYLAN JACK reports.
On Wednesday, it was confirmed that the 2021 edition of the Varsity Cup and Shield will go ahead, but in a secure bio-bubble environment in Pretoria between 4 April and 24 May.
Matches will be played at UP-Tuks Stadium, the Tuks B Field and at Loftus Versfeld (a mere 4km away) on Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays.
However, in a restructuring from previous seasons, the nine rounds of the Varsity Cup league stage will be split into three weekly bubbles of three rounds each.
The first week of the Varsity Cup (rounds 1-3) will take place from 4-11 April, the second week (rounds 4-6) from 22-30 April and the third week (rounds 7-9) from 10-15 May.
Essentially this means that players will have a rest period of two days between each round. After each weekly bubble, players will be allowed to return to their respective campuses to attend to their academic responsibilities.
Hi there. All players will have internet access in the bubble and will be able to continue with online remote learning which they are used to. Each VC bubble is a week-long and then students return to their universities for necessary in-person tutorials, practical’s and tests.
— Varsity Cup (@varsitycup) March 10, 2021
Speaking to SARugbymag.co.za, Nesi explained that the players’ academics was a major factor in how they decided to structure this season.
‘That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t do just one continuous bubble,’ Nesi said. ‘We wanted to allow the students to get back to campus and to attend their necessary practicals and tutorials that needed to be done in person.’
Of course, this leads to the question of player welfare and whether the players can handle playing so many games in such a short period, considering that many of them would not have played since last year.
Added to this, those teams that do make it through to the final, will only have two days’ rest from the semi-finals.
‘We initially thought of keeping those teams there for an extra week for the semi-final and final. But we were concerned that we would be keeping them in the bubble for too long. They will get a week’s break in between the last round-robin match and the semi-final.
‘What we have tried to ensure is two days rest in between matches. One of the big considerations is when the teams normally go to the USSA tournament, they would play three games in five days. We consulted with the coaches and realised they would need a minimum of two days. We couldn’t do longer than that because each of the bubble weeks would start going towards 10 days, which would become an issue academically.
‘Obviously, we are all going to be watching quite carefully. Teams haven’t played in over a year. All of a sudden, you are playing games thick and fast. We are partnering with a research institution to monitor fitness and injuries.’
Nesi added that because there will be no U20 ‘Young Guns’ tournament this year, those players will be able to be incorporated into enlarged 30-man squads to help each team cope.
‘Every team knows the structures. We have given them 30-man squads, so close to what you would take to a World Cup. That allows you to build depth in your squad. If you have an injury and a player can no longer take part, we have a protocol where the player would be signed off by the tournament doctor and the new player who would come in as a replacement gets tested.
‘It’s great that universities will have a bigger squad this year. If your flyhalf tests positive for Covid and your second choice gets injured, for example, then your third-choice flyhalf gets an opportunity and would need to have been training with the squad. It is nice in that it gives a greater opportunity to everyone because teams stand two risks: testing positive and an injury within the bubble.’
Photo: Hannes Naude