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Sport
Varsity Cup 2016 semi-finalists lock heads in 2017 season opener

The opening week of the FNB Varsity Cup is to set the tone for the exciting series.

The Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International, kicks off on 30 January 2017. For the first time since its inception in 2008, the competition will feature a total of nine teams. Even more exciting is that the popular varsity competition celebrates 10 years of Rocking Rugby in 2017. Teams will do battle over 12 weeks aiming to be crowned the best university rugby team in the country. In another first in Varsity Cup history, teams will now each enjoy a bye during the round robin stage, with four home and four away games being played.

“Six years ago Heyneke Meyer suggested the competition look into an equal home and away format, and today, with the extra team added, we are finally there,” says Duitser Bosman, Varsity Cup CEO. “Another first in Varsity Cup history sees the opening week take place in January.”

A repeat of the 2016 semi-finals should make for a thrilling opening week. Defending champions NWU-Pukke travel to Gauteng to face UJ (University of Johannesburg), while three-time champions Maties are hosted by 2013 and 2014 champions UP-Tuks at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria.

Wits, who regained their Varsity Cup status after finishing at the top of the Varsity Shield log, will host the 2015 champions Shimlas, on the night’s first televised match.

The opening week also sees CUT as the first team to have the luxury of a bye. They kick off their campaign against UCT Ikeys at the UCT rugby fields a week later.

The Nelson Mandela University’s sports stadium will be undergoing an upgrade in 2017, and the Madibaz will therefore forego their home games to the teams they’ll be playing against. Their first match is against UCT and will be played at the Tygerberg Stadium. Due to exams taking place, UCT is unable to host the opening fixture at their sports stadium. The remainder of their home matches will take place at the UCT rugby fields.

These two teams will play for the Monte Taljaard Trophy, as they have done every year. Taljaard, an Ikey-Tiger, was a talented young flank, who tragically passed away following a car accident in 2008. Ever since his passing, the Madibaz and Ikey Tigers’ Varsity Cup encounter has been played in honour of Taljaard.

Varsity Shield

Three new universities join the Varsity Shield competition. They are Rhodes, CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), and WSU (Walter Sisulu University). The Varsity Shield season kicks off on 9 February. The tournament has grown from five to seven teams. A daunting task awaits the new trio as all of their opening matches are away games.

It’s an all-Cape affair, in the season opener, as UWC host neighbours CPUT while Rhodes travel to Tshwane to face TUT. The final new kid on the block, WSU, will be hosted at the Davidson Stadium by UFH, which will be one of the two televised Varsity Shield matches on SuperSport, the other being the Cape Town derby.

“Varsity Cup has become a highlight on the rugby-mad South African’s sporting calendar as fans look forward to a unique and entertaining sporting display every Monday night,” said Varsity Cup Manager, Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi.

“There is great excitement around the eagerly anticipated try-scoring rule this season, which will see a try counting seven points when originating from anywhere in a team’s own half, and five points if in the opposition half. This rule will reward teams that score tries without surrendering possession, running it in from their own half. The amended mauling law and scrumming law also added an exciting dimension to the playing conditions in 2016, decreasing the amount of time spent resetting these two aspects of play.”

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