George Germishuys
3 minute read
5 Apr 2014
6:00 am

Varsity rugby is where it started

George Germishuys

Few can argue against the romance of university rugby: the crowds, the braais, the passionate chants, the running rugby and the fact that the teams are playing for little more than the love of the game.

Picture: AFP

With the final between NWU-Pukke and UCT a few days away, it raises the extensive list of dynamic rugby players that this fantastic tournament has produced, whether at provincial or international level.

Even though the Varsity Cup initiative has thrust the game at this level firmly into the limelight, it is important to remember that university rugby was a vital cog in the SA rugby machinery long before Monday night rugby.

Many greats of the South African game appeared for a university at one stage or another.

It is not difficult to recall nostalgic images of a dashing Rob Louw in the maroon Maties jersey or a young, moustached Naas Botha continually splitting the uprights for Tuks.

The popular consensus is that the Varsity Cup acts as the proverbial safety net to catch any players falling through the cracks.

But the fact is that many unions now regard the competition as part of their structure, another system to be used to blood senior players for the union and maybe even a few for the hallowed green and gold.

The extensive list of current Super Rugby, Currie Cup and Springbok players who once donned university colours testifies to this.

It was not that long ago that a muscular youngster by the name of Eben Etzebeth turned out for UTC’s Ikeys in their successful 2011 campaign.

Stormers stalwarts Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Demetri Catrakilis and Damian de Allende all wore the Ikeys jersey as well. Juan de Jongh was a star attraction for Maties before his silky stepping made him famous on the international stage.

Others include Scarra Ntubeni and Siya Kolisi (UCT) as well as De Kock Steenkamp, Rynhardt Elstadt and Kurt Coleman (Maties).

Varsity Cup graduates donning the Cheetah chevrons this season include the evergreen loosies Boom Prinsloo and Lappies Labuschagne, both for the University of Free State.

Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen made his sizeable mark in the same colours.

Blond midfielder Johann Sadie was an attacking threat for Maties before making his debut for Western Province, then being snapped up by the Bulls and eventually settling in Bloemfontein.
Others include: Hercu Liebenberg (Shimlas), Lodewyk de Jager (Pukke), Andries Ferreira (Tuks), Ligtoring Landman (Pukke), Jean Cook (Tuks), Marnus Schoeman (Tuks), Kevin Luiters (Shimlas), Piet Lindeque (Tuks), Howard Mnisi (NMMU) and Raymond Rhule (Shimlas).

Lions who once shone in Monday night rugby are Willie Britz (Shimlas), Franco Mostert (Tuks) and Ruan Combrinck (Maties).

Pumas import Coenie van Wyk also won quite a few games for Maties with his deadly left boot.

Exciting winger Courtnall Skosan won the Varsity Cup with Tuks in 2012 and 2013 before making his Super Rugby debut for the Lions in 2014.

MB Lusaseni, the swashbuckling second-rower, first played for Pukke before being picked up by the Lions. Robbie Coetzee (Tuks), Martin Muller (UCT), Derick Minnie (UJ), Jaco Kriel (UJ), Warwick Tecklenburg (Tuks), Marnitz Boshoff (Tuks) and Andries Coetzee (Tuks) also took part in their younger days.

Current Bulls to have played in the Varsity Cup include exciting Bok halfback Piet van Zyl who starred for Shimlas, Grant Hattingh (Maties), Jono Ross (Tuks), Frik Kirsten (Tuks), Marcel van der Merwe (Shimlas), Morne Mellett (Tuks), Bongi Mbonambi (TUT, Tuks), Callie Visagie (Maties), Paul Willemse (Tuks), David Bullbring (UJ), Arno Botha, Wiaan Liebenberg, Jacques du Plessis (Tuks), Rudy Paige (UJ), Handre Pollard and William Small-Smith (Tuks), JJ Engelbrecht (Maties) and Jurgen Visser (Maties, Tuks).

Sharks tighthead prop Lourens Adriaanse was a standout player for Maties before eventually becoming a Springbok against France in Paris at the end of 2013.

The exciting fullback SP Marais also first made his mark for the NWU-Pukke before gaining further prominence.

As rugby lovers, we can only hope that the sanctity of this competition remains intact.