In the second 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: Heino Bezuidenhout
CUT pulled off a coup when they lured former Blitzbok forward Heino Bezuidenhout to the university, naming him as their captain for the 2020 season. For Bezuidenhout it was an opportunity to find his best form after an injury-hit 2019 sevens season. Playing at inside centre, he helped the Free State University claim two wins and a draw at the start of the season.
Forward: Jacques Ackerman
Having been named Sharks U19 Player of the Year in 2017, Ackerman showed he had potential. The 21-year-old joined CUT after his contract with the Sharks was not renewed and he settling in well. Even though he played at the Sharks as a lock, the 1.91m player has grown into a useful loose forward alongside Luvuyo Ndevu and Hardus Nel.
Back: Cham Zondeki
Zondeki came through the same Durban High and KwaZulu-Natal U18 teams as Phepsi Buthelezi and Sanele Nohamba but his career has not progressed quite as quickly as his former teammates. Nevertheless, the fullback/wing is an incredibly talented player who has great potential. His speed and sidestep make him dangerous on the counter-attack, while his finishing ability is also very good. If he can continue working on the weaker elements of his game, he could make it into provincial rugby.
Forward: Sibabalo Qoma
Having come through the Free State Academy, Qoma is one of the veterans of this Shimlas team. The 23-year-old lock, who is also comfortable at blindside flank, was part of the Cheetahs’ Pro14 squad but did not make an appearance before the season was suspended. His strengths lie in his work rate, especially on defence where he has made a reputation of making a few massive big hits.
Back: Tatendaishe Mujawo
It has been a tough season for UJ and they look to be heading for a battle against relegation, with no wins and three points from their five matches. However, there have been small, bright sparks and Mujawo has been one of them. The Zimbabwean-born wing was educated at St Benedict’s in Johannesburg and played for SA Schools before furthering his studies at UJ. His excellent 2019 form – which saw him play for the Zimbabwe Sables in the Rugby Challenge – has continued this year. While he is yet to commit his international future, Zimbabwe have certainly showed an interest in securing him.
Forward: Kwagga van Niekerk
Another shining light for UJ has been the form of one of their up-and-coming loose forwards. Van Niekerk was schooled at Hoerskool Monument in Krugersdorp, but qualified to play for Scotland through his grandfather. He played for his adopted nation during the U20 Six Nations and Junior World Championships, where he faced the Junior Springboks. Van Niekerk has brought a physical edge to the UJ loose trio and the Lions may consider investing in him.
Back: Lyle Hendricks
Hendricks’ rising career took another positive turn in 2020 when he was named in the Stormers’ Super Rugby squad for the first time. The inside centre has impressed with UWC since helping them gain promotion into the Varsity Cup in his debut season in 2018. With two years left on his contract with Western Province, he will be hoping to make the most of his opportunities to impress John Dobson.
Forward: Jacques van Zyl
Having taken over the captaincy of UWC this year, Van Zyl has worn his heart on his sleeve in every game this season. A never-say-die attitude inspired his team to a first away victory over Shimlas. The hooker was also inspirational in the narrow loss to UCT, where he made a number of crucial tackles to keep his side in the game.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images