In the third article of a new series, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the 2012 Varsity Cup final and finds out what happened to the title-winning UP-Tuks players.
After making the semi-finals in the first two editions of Varsity Cup in 2008 and 2009 and then finishing as losing finalists in 2011, UP-Tuks finally broke their duck and claimed the title in 2012.
UP-Tuks topped the table as they finished just one point ahead of Maties, who were unbeaten that year, thanks to their bonus points. They faced the Maroon Machine in the final in Pretoria.
After a tightly contested first half the two sides were deadlocked at 14-14. Jerome ‘Trompie’ Pretorius and prop Basil Short scored UP-Tuks’ tries, while fullback Andre Smith and lock Hugo Kloppers scored for Maties. However, the home side took control of the game in the second half as scrumhalf Lohan Jacobs darted over shortly after the break, before Franco Mostert forced his way over to make it 29-14. Maties kept fighting and had the final say when substitute Hein van der Merwe scored after the hooter, but it was all too late as Tuks finally got to celebrate.
15 Clayton Blommetjies
One of the deadliest attacking players in this team, Blommetjies struggled to seal a regular place in the Vodacom Bulls squad. That had him sign a deal with the Cheetahs in 2014 and he remained a regular part of their team until 2018, when as part of their overseas exodus, he decided to move to Wales with the Scarlets. However, concerns over the fullback’s fitness only afforded him a pre-season match and he was loaned out to the Leicester Tigers in 2019. Blommetjies returned to Bloemfontein shortly after and has continued playing in the PRO14.
14 Deon Helberg
Helberg played for Tuks between 2010 and 2012, before making the move to the Lions and playing for them in the Currie Cup – winning the title – and Vodacom Super Rugby tournaments. He then returned to his home province in Mpumalanga with the Pumas and played for the team until 2017.
13 Jerome Pretorius
Pretorius played four times for the Blue Bulls in 2012 but decided to join the Pumas that same year. He was a member of Pumas teams that won the Vodacom Cup in 2015 and Provincial Rugby Challenge in 2018.
12 Dabeon Draghoender
Draghoender won the Varsity Cup in 2009 and 2010 with Maties before moving to Pretoria and beating his former side in the final in 2012. Unfortunately, he was never able to make it in professional rugby and realised at age 26 that he should hang up his boots. However, he has found a new life as a coach and coached UP-Tuks to title honours in the Varsity Sevens tournament in 2018. In 2019 he was appointed as Tuks’ Young Guns coach.
11 Hayden Groepes
Groepes has stepped up to the Bulls as a youth coach. He has assisted their Super Rugby team as a general skills and attacking coach and also served as U19 coach and a technical analyst.
10 Wesley Dunlop
Despite finishing the 2012 Varsity Cup season as top-scorer and being named overall Player that Rocks, Dunlop struggled to get into the Bulls squad. In 2012, he moved back to the Eastern Cape and joined the Kings, playing for them in the 2012 Currie Cup First Division. He was intitally named in their 2013 Super Rugby squad, but later dropped to the Vodacom Cup. He took his chance to go overseas with French ProD2 side US Montabaun. In 2019, he joined CS Bourgoin-Jallieu – the premier amateur club competition.
9 Lohan Jacobs
Jacobs continued to play for Tuks in the 2013 Varsity Cup and made his senior debut for the Bulls in the 2011 Currie Cup. He was among the Bulls players to move across to the Lions in 2015. The former scrumhalf has since retired from the game and currently works as an instrumentation technician at Ma Automotive.
8 Jono Ross
Ross may have struggled to have made an impact in South Africa – with two stints at the Bulls not working out – but he has been a hit overseas with successful stints at Saracens and Stade Francais before he moved to the Sale Sharks in 2017. The 29-year-old has captained the team this season and there are calls for him to be included in the England set-up.
7 Jacques Verwey
Verwey helped Tuks defend their title in 2013 before making the move to the Valke. There, he established himself as a first-team regular, playing in the First Division and Vodacom Cup.
6 Okkie Kruger
Kruger went on to play for the Blitzboks and was part of the team that won bronze at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. He also progressed through the Bulls and represented the Pretoria franchise at Super Rugby level. While he was playing, he continued his studies towards becoming a doctor and he became fully focused on his career after a final stint with US DAX. After hanging up his boots, he became the team doctor for the Bulls youth teams and UP-Tuks, becoming the first player to win the Varsity Cup as both a player and doctor. Currently, he lives and continues to practice medicine in Canada.
5 Franco Mostert
Possibly the most famous member of this group of players, Mostert would go on to win the 2019 World Cup with the Springboks. The rangy lock joined the Lions in 2013, but suffered a setback after getting injured in a car crash. However, he fully recovered and was part of the Lions teams that made three succcessive Super Rugby finals. In 2018, after a protracted contract saga, he joined former Lions coach Johan Ackermann at Gloucester and has established himself as a mainstay in their starting lineup.
4 Mike Williams
The Zimbabwe-born lock helped Tuks defend their title in 2013, winning man of the match in the semi-final against UJ. He then moved to the Worcester Warriors on a two-year-deal, before joining the Leicester Tigers for the 2015-16 season. He is currently part of Bath’s squad and was called up to an England pre-season training camp in 2016.
3 Grant Kemp
Kemps signed for the SWD Eagles and played in the First Division until 2014. Currently, he anchors the scrum for Hong Kong and was part of the 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign.
2 Zane Botha
The former Tuks captain and Junior Springbok never progressed as a professional after testing positive for a banned substance in 2013 . He was subsequently banned for two years and returned to Bloemfontein and continued his studies through Unisa. He was promoted as the University of the Free State’s U20 coach for the Young Guns tournament in 2019.
1 Sabelo Nhlapo
Nhlapo also played in the 2013 final before joining the Boland Cavaliers in the latter stages of 2013. He then moved to Nelspruit with the Pumas in 2014 and was a member of the squad that won the Vodacom Cup in 2015 and last played for the team in 2016.
16 Kurt Haupt
Haupt played for the Bulls in the 2013 Vodacom Cup, but then joined the SWD Eagles in 2014 on recommendation of Heyneke Meyer. In 2017 he moved overseas with the Worcester Warriors and spent a season with the Premiership side. He is one of a handful of South Africans who ply their trade internationally for Germany.
17 Juan Schoeman
The former Junior Springbok played for the Bulls until the end of 2014, when he moved to Durban with the Sharks. The loosehead prop is currently part of their Super Rugby squad.
18 Sthembiso Mhlongo
‘Stairs’ Mhlongo moved to the Border Bulldogs in 2013 and was a regular member of their First Division team, but was released as the union declared bankruptcy at the end of 2013. He then joined the Leopards and helped them into the First Division final, which they won for the first time in their history.
19 Wiaan Liebenberg
Liebenberg captained to Junior Springboks to the U20 World Championship title on home soil in 2012 and continued to play for Tuks until 2015. After it became clear that he was not in the Bulls’ plans, he joined the South African contingent at Montpellier. Currently, he is a regular for La Rochelle, who were targeting a place in the Top 14 playoffs this season.
20 Rudi van Rooyen
The scrumhalf has had stints with Griquas and the Kings. Currently, he plays for Lokomotiv in Russia.
21 Willie du Plessis
Du Plessis moved on to have two stints with the Cheetahs, separated by a short-term move to the Lions. In 2015, he joined Montpellier as a medical joker and later joined Bayonne in a similar deal. Du Plessis then signed a permanent three-year deal with Bayonne, starting in the 2016-17 season. Currently, he plays in the ProD2 for Biarritz.
22 Courtnall Skosan
Another who needs no introduction, Skosan joined the Lions in 2014 and has become a senior member of the side. His try-scoring exploits had him win 12 Test caps for the Springboks in 2017.
23 Basil Short
Short played for the Bulls until 2015, when he joined Boland. In 2017, he moved to the SWD Eagles.
Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images