In the sixth article of a new series, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the 2016 Varsity Cup final and finds out what happened to the title-winning NWU-Pukke players.
From one of the highest-scoring Varsity Cup finals to one of the lowest, NWU were finally able to go from bridesmaid to bride after finishing as runners-up in 2014 and 2015.
NWU, under the coaching of former Blitzbok captain Jonathan Mokuena, finished third on the overall table, behind both first-placed Maties and second-placed UJ. That meant that they had to travel to Johannesburg for the semi-finals – where they were able to claim a relatively comfortable 35-7 win thanks to the boot of fullback Rhyno Smith.
A final against Maties – who had lost just one game all season – in Stellenbosch was set up. Maties were the top point-scorers and top try-scorers that season, so NWU would have to be at their best defensively to stand any chance of winning.
The final was incredibly tight, with both sides not giving an inch going into the break deadlocked at 0-0. Maties drew first blood in the second half through the boot of flyhalf Chris Smith – a late replacement regular pivot Theo Stapelberg – opening up a 6-0 lead.
Maties continued to have the better of territory and possession and had an opportunity to make it 9-0, but Smith missed his penalty, giving NWU hope of a late comeback. As it happened, NWU pushed for a potential winner and there was late drama as wing Dean Stokes thought he had scored, only for the TMO to intervene and rule that he had knocked the ball on. That gave Maties a defensive scrum, but the home side conceded a penalty. From the resulting attacking scrum, NWU made their pressure count as No 8 Marno Redelinghuys forced his way over the line – with Rhyno Smith adding the conversion to give the visitors a memorable 7-6 win.
15 Rhyno Smith
Following the Varsity Cup final, Smith linked up with the Leopards for their Currie Cup-qualification campaign. In 2016, he moved to Durban to play for the Sharks. Unfortunately, he struggled to find a consistent place in the starting lineup in his three years in Durban and joined the Cheetahs on an initial loan, which was made permanent in 2019. Currently, he appears to have rediscovered his best form and is the top try-scorer in the 2019-20 PRO14 season.
14 Lucian Cupido
Cupido completed his postgraduate Diploma in Business, Management and Marketing. After finishing his studies, he worked as a site supervisor for Landman Construction. Currently, he works as a financial advisor for Old Mutual, while continuing to play club rugby for Paarl Rugby Club.
13 Johan Deysel
The Namibian international centre moved to the Sharks in 2017, after playing for the Leopards in 2016. He won a handful caps for the Sharks in both Super Rugby and the Currie Cup, but the emergence of Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen had him struggle to get regular game time. In 2018, he moved to France with ProD2 side Colomiers – where his is currently based – and played for Namibia at the 2019 World Cup.
12 Henko Marais
Marais continued to play for the Leopards in 2017, before moving to the Pumas in 2018. Currently he plays for Russian side Enisei-STM, who he joined in 2019.
11 Sylvian Mahuza
Mahuza joined the Lions after the 2016 Varsity Cup and was part of the Super Rugby teams that made the final in 2017 and 2018. Currently, he plays alongside Lions teammate Malcolm Marx at Japan Top League side NTT Shining Arcs.
10 Benhard Janse van Rensburg
In 2016, Janse van Rensburg played for the Junior Springboks in the U20 World Championships after flying out to Manchester as an injury replacement for Sbu Nkosi and Embrose Papier. He then joined the Sharks and was included in their squad for the 2016 Currie Cup. He made his senior debut for the team in the 2017 Super Rugby season, but he struggled to find a regular place in the team and was loaned to the Kings between 2017 and 2018. Janse van Rensburg then joined the Cheetahs in 2018 and has found his place at outside centre for the Bloemfontein-based team.
9 Malherbe Swart
Swart continued to play for the Leopards in their 2016 Currie Cup- qualification campaign. After finishing his MSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, he focused on his career in medicine. Currently, he works at the Institute for Pharmaceutical Services in Midrand.
8 Jeandre Rudolph
The NWU captain played for the Leopards in the Currie Cup First Division, but then joined coach Brent Janse van Rensburg at the Pumas in 2018. After starring for the Pumas in the 2019 Currie Cup, he earned a move to the Vodacom Bulls and he is currently a regular in their Super Rugby team.
7 Marno Redelinghuys
Redelinghuys would go on to taste Varsity Cuo glory again as he signed for Western Province and played for Maties in the 2018 season. Provincially, he made his debut for Province in the 2018 Rugby Challenge and then his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in 2019. Currently, he plays in the US Major League for Atlanta.
6 Jaco Jordaan
Jordaan played for the Leopards in 2016, but has since fallen off the rugby radar. Reach out to us in the comments section if you know what he is up to now.
5 Walt Steenkamp
Steenkamp continued to play for NWU until the 2018 Varsity Cup season when he was named Forward that Rocks, after helping his side reach the final. He then joined the Cheetahs and helped them win the Currie Cup in 2019. Currently, he is a regular in the Cheetahs PRO14 team.
4 Neil Morrison
Morrison – nicknamed ‘Loftus’ – continued to play for the Leopards and NWU in 2017 and was named in the 2017 Varsity Cup Dream Team. After graduating with a degree in pharmacy, he focused on his career away from rugby. Currently he works as a pharmacist at Clicks in Bloemfontein.
3 Bart le Roux
Le Roux played for the Leopards in 2016, but then moved to Italy to play for Zebre in the PRO12. After playing six games in the 2016-17 PRO14 season, he returned to South Africa to play at the EP Kings. Currently he studies education at the University of Pretoria and he played for UP-Tuks in the 2019 Varsity Cup.
2 Wilmar Arnoldi
One of the star performers for NWU, Arnoldi was named in the 2017 Varsity Cup Dream Team before joining Griquas. In 2018 and 2019, he played for Maties and was part of their cup-winning teams. In July 2019, he signed for the Cheetahs and is currently part of their PRO14 squad.
1 Mashudu Mafela
Mafela graduated with a BA in Health Science in 2015, before getting his Diploma in Business Management in 2016. While he played for the Leopards in the Currie Cup qualifiers in 2016, he decided to focus fulltime on his company following the tournament.
16 Louis van der Westhuizen
Van der Westhuizen would continue to star for NWU until the 2019 Varsity Cup, where he captained the team to the semi-finals. The 25-year-old played two games for Namibia at the 2019 World Cup. He then joined the Bulls for the 2020 Super Rugby season and was named in their squad for their Australasian tour before the season was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
17 Joe Smith
Smith played for Pukke and the Leopards until 2017. In 2018, he joined the Southern Kings and played a handful of games for them in the PRO14. He currently coaches at Potchefstroom Rugby Club and teaches in Fochville.
18 Ruan Venter
The former Junior Springbok – who was part of the team that played in the U20 Championship in Italy in 2011 – ran out for the Leopards until 2017. Most recently, he played club rugby for the Northam Platinum Rhinos, while working for Northam Platinum Mine.
19 Tiaan Liebenberg
Liebenberg graduated in 2016 with a degree in education and started teaching at Kenmare Primary in Krugersdorp. In 2020, he moved to the UK and tried to join the Royal Marines. Unfortunately, he had to return to South Africa due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
20 Percy Williams
Williams graduated from NWU in 2016 with a BA in Behavioural Sciences. In 2017, he started working at Newrak Mining as a human resources assistant, while playing club rugby for the Rustenburg Impala. Currently, he works as a talent management officer at SJ Directional Drilling in Thabazimbi and lives in Northam.
21 Akhona Nela
Nela has continued to play for the Leopards and NWU in the Currie Cup First Division and Varsity Cup, while working towards his degree in communication.
22 Dean Stokes
Stokes continued to play for NWU until 2018. He graduated with a BA in Behavioural Sciences and Labour Relations. Currently, he works for Northam Platinum as a business advisor, while he plays club rugby for the Rhinos.
23 Mogau Mabokela
Mabokela moved to the University of the Free State in 2018 and played for Shimlas until 2019. Currently, he is part of the UP-Tuks squad and continuing his studies towards a degree in education.
Photo: Gallo Images/Beeld/Jaco Marais