Varsity Cup important to rugby development: Roux

25 January 2011 - 14:11 By Michael Mentz, Sapa

The Varsity Cup plays an important role in developing the country’s rugby, SA Rugby Union (Saru) president Jurie Roux said on Monday.

“The Varsity Cup is more than just a rugby tournament, it also has a social and academic responsibility to fulfil,” Roux said in Johannesburg at the launch of the fourth edition of the competition.

The night spectacle has gained tremendous popularity under the flag of the global lifestyle supplier, Steinhoff International.

“Varsity Cup has been an important part of Saru’s planning and has been included in this year’s SA Rugby Annual, and we are looking forward to another great season,” said Roux.

Staying true to the competition’s reputation of breaking new ground, the organisers revealed that this year they intend kick-starting a drive in support of the Springboks, who aim to be the first team to retain the William Webb Ellis trophy.

The Boks will also become the first nation to win the trophy on three occasions should they succeed in New Zealand later this year.

Another new addition to the student competition is the Varsity Shield, which will be a second tier to the main prize.

Five universities will take part in the inaugural Varsity Shield: the universities of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Witwatersrand (Wits), the Western Cape (UWC), Fort Hare and the Central University of Technology in the Free State).

The teams were selected by Saru, University Sports South Africa and the Varsity Cup.

Fort Hare and UKZN have pushed hard for Varsity Cup inclusion since 2008. Wits, CUT and UWC will help add depth to the tournament, which will have 13 teams this year — eight in the Cup and five in the newly-created Shield.

After the Cup this year, a promotion/relegation match will be held between the bottom team and the winning Varsity Shield side to decide the eight-team Varsity Cup line-up for the next season.

However, from next year the winner of the Varsity Shield will automatically progress to the Varsity Cup, at the expense of the bottom-placed Cup side.

“Varsity Cup rugby has grown every year and really expanded the game as we know it, so it was always going to be a matter of time before the other varsities joined in,” said Varsity Cup MD Duitser Bosman.

“This competition changes lives and we know that will be the case this year when thousands of students become part to Monday night rugby,” he said.

With promotion/relegation matches on the cards, teams that have struggled to compete with the likes of three-time champions Maties, sought expert advice in the off-season.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Tshwane University of Technology used the expertise of former World Cup winning coach Jake White, while the University of Pretoria was assisted by the Blue Bulls’ director of coaching Heyneke Meyer.

The format of the main competition will not change much from previous years and the inclusion of a 23rd player on the bench will remain part of the competition.

The introduction of an extra substitute, who had to be a specialist prop forward, ensured there was not a single re-set scrum the entire 2010 season and resulted in more action, more entertainment and a higher quality of play all-round.

The Varsity Cup kicks-off on February 7 with the first Varsity Shield match taking place on January 31.