The new Varsity Cup competition is set to turn South Africa’s flagging attitude towards club rugby on its head.
The brainchild of former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, the competition borrows many ideas from the hugely successful college football format in the USA. Eight sides compete every Monday night from 18 February with the final staged on 7 April. While the rugby will ultimately remain the same, a few innovations will be made to heighten the spectacle for the crowd as seen in the hugely Twenty20 cricket format.
“There will be competitions, cheerleaders and lots of prizes to be won,” Pienaar told keo.co.za. “We call it “Rugby that Rocks”. The fact that these matches will be televised should attract great interest, and we are also discussing a few other proposals with Saru.”
The coach will have the opportunity to call one time-out per half, another innovation borrowed from American football. The coach could then come onto the field and discuss the situation with his team. Another proposal is the use of rolling subs to ensure the tempo of the game is kept lively.
Transformation is also a priority and this is why every team has agreed to include five players of colour in their match 22, with three on the park at any given time.
The teams competing this year are the top eight universities selected by the South African Students Sports Union (SASSU) at the 2007 SASSU tournament. Part of the league also sees these eight teams travelling to George over Easter to play each other in what will be a bumper rugby festival.
Once the best university team in the country is crowned, there will be a promotion/relegation battle between this year’s worst placed team and a new university side selected by SASSU. The winner of this play-off will feature in the 2009 installment.
Pienaar believes this competition will be a commercial success and benefit those club players looking for more exposure.
“The Springbok coach and the provincial coaches will be able to see what these players can offer in a pressure situation. Our university rugby standards are very high and the television exposure will add to this pressure.”
Every league fixture will be preceded by a Koshuis curtain raiser. Each of the top eight universities will then select their top Koshuis side to represent their institution at the Easter festival. The Koshuis teams will then compete in a knockout competition for the national Koshuis title, which is a big first in this country.
Stellenbosch University (Maties), the North West University (Pukke), the University of Pretoria (Tuks), The University of the Free State (Shimlas), the University of Cape Town (Ikeys), the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the Tswane University for Technology (TUT) and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
By Jon Cardinelli