Varsity Cup – FNB Varsity Cup Expected To Kick Off With A Bang


The 2024 FNB Varsity Cup and FNB Varsity Shield competitions are ready to once again showcase the best of student rugby the country has to offer.

When it comes to being eager and rearing to go, FNB NWU Eagles cannot wait to defend their Varsity Cup title after they narrowly beat FNB UCT Ikeys (27-25) in last year’s final on home turf in Potchefstroom. If they manage to do so, they will add a third trophy to their cabinet.

This year the Varsity Cup will be contested without former powerhouse FNB UP-Tuks for the first time in the competition’s history. Champions in 2012, 2013, 2017, 2021 and 2022, the Pretoria-based team failed to win a single match last year and will now play in the Varsity Shield.

Tuks’ loss was FNB UWC’s gain after the Capetonians were crowned the 2023 Varsity Shield champions following victory over FNB CPUT in the final.

16:45 UFS Shimlas vs UCT Ikeys - Shimla Park (TV)

Shimlas will face FNB UCT Ikeys at Shimla Park in Bloemfontein in the first match of the 2023 Varsity Cup season.

Continuity is key for FNB UFS Shimlas and the Bloemfontein-based team has an experienced squad for 2024 and most of the regulars will be back in action, apart from a handful of lads who went on to graduate or turn professional.

Shimlas will be hoping for a case of third-time lucky under the guidance of coach André Tredoux. This after back-to-back defeats (2022, 2023) at home in the semi-finals.

“We've been honoured to have quite a few of the boys receiving professional contracts, but we've kept great continuity, especially in the tight-five and in the backline. We basically got the whole backline returning, except for Litha Nkula who is too old," Tredoux said.

After falling at the last hurdle in the 2023 FNB Varsity Cup final, losing to FNB NWU by just two points, FNB UCT coach Tom Dawson-Squibb says his team is power-hungry this year.

Dawson-Squibb says the Ikeys players have been going hard at it in their training sessions.

“So far preparations have been going pretty well. Obviously you lose a couple of guys, but we've still got a really nice core of our squad from last year and you can see the guys are looking cohesive and connected. There is still work to be done, but I would say we're looking pretty good at the moment."

19:00 FNB Maties vs FNB NWU Eagles - Danie Craven Stadium (TV)

Maties take on defending champions FNB NWU Eagles at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch in their opening encounter of the 2024 competition.

Although he is looking forward to this year’s FNB Varsity Cup, FNB Maties coach Kabamba Floors says it remains a challenge to try and get the team back to the top as champions. They last won the title in 2019.

“In terms of university sports, it is the biggest competition out there. As a coach, your success gets measured by trying to take your team all the way. And that is why we see winning last year's Western Province Super League A competition as a stepping stone to achieving greater things with this group of players that we have assembled. It was a great opportunity for developing players.”

Managing the team with the movement of players in and out of the system for various reasons also is a factor, says Floors.

“Remember we lost quite a few players with Jurie Mathee (flyhalf), Thomas Bursey (scrumhalf), and Simon Miller (flank) at the Stormers and Western Province. Waqar Solaan (centre) is at Griquas, while Juan Beukes (lock) has made the move to Ireland (Dublin University).

“We managed to gain some experience by signing a few more experienced players, like Juan Mostert (flyhalf) from the Bulls and Ryan Manuel (centre) from the Sharks, and two more post-grad students from other universities.”

Defending champions FNB NWU Eagles are looking to play an attractive brand of rugby while maintaining a winning culture in the 2024 FNB Varsity Cup competition. Head coach Burger van der Westhuizen says they are tackling this year with the same attitude that saw them lift the trophy last year.

"If you had a successful campaign, you want to continue using the same approach and keep using the same things that worked for you.”

Despite the departure of several experienced players, he however has confidence in the newbies.

“We had about 33 players and lost 21. Luckily for us, there are still some experienced players left in the squad so we’re looking at a brand new team, a brand new philosophy, and a brand new culture and the guys are working hard to achieve our objectives.”

Despite being the reigning champions, Van der Westhuizen says the team doesn’t feel any additional pressure.

“It’s now 2024 and last year was 2023, so whatever happened last year was very good but this is a new group of players who are really hungry to go out there and perform. We obviously want to compete and be in the semi-final and final so the best thing is to keep the pressure thing away from the players.”

19:00 FNB UWC vs FNB Wits - UWC Stadium

Newcomers FNB UWC take on FNB Wits at the UWC Stadium in Cape Town in their opening encounter of the 2024 competition.

FNB UWC are ready for a triumphant return to the 2024 FNB Varsity Cup following a dominant display in last year’s FNB Varsity Shield competition that saw them lift the trophy.

Assistant coach Lionel Langenhoven gives some insight into the team's preparations and aspirations.

"Returning to the Varsity Cup competition was in itself a big achievement for us all. We know that it is a different ball game and that our approach on and off the field needs to improve. The way we are going to play will have some adjustments because the standard and the level of quality opposition will demand a huge challenge."

In terms of recruitment, Langenhoven says their efforts have been focused on filling the gap left by departing players. Coaching UWC holds a special place for Langenhoven, who has been involved with the team for close to a decade. According to him, the impact coaches can have on students' lives, makes the experience truly rewarding.

"The investment in some very talented youngsters bodes well for the future. Being involved for close to 10 years at this iconic university speaks volumes. I have been through so many special moments that change the community of UWC and surrounding areas."

With pre-season preparations for the 2024 FNB Varsity Cup starting to wrap up, FNB Wits coach Hugo van As has expressed his delight with the efforts put in by his team.

“Pre-season has been going great, obviously the month of November was challenging with exams but we can’t complain, the team’s attitude to learn and to work hard has been fantastic,” says Van As.

He adds Wits has high expectations for the season and will be looking to push it to the top.

“We are training and preparing to do well in the 2024 edition of the Varsity Cup. The group has high expectations and is dreaming of having an unforgettable Varsity Cup season, because which team is preparing not to win this great competition?”

Van As is excited about the new talent that has joined the squad, which includes the skipper from rivals FNB UJ, Kelvin Kanenungo, and Junior Boks scrumhalf Hasheem Pead.

“We have lost a couple of players to other universities, a few have finished up and entered the working environment, while a few of our youngsters have come through the ranks and will add massively to our squad this year. We have a few new players that have joined us, in former UJ captain Kelvin Kanenungo and prop Elisha Kwitonda, Tiraque Applolles. Hasheem Pead is also an exciting addition, he is currently in the Junior Boks set-up.”

19:00 FNB CUT vs FNB UJ - CUT Rugby Stadium

FNB CUT Ixias are looking to the future as they continue to fine-tune for the 2024 FNB Varsity Cup. The Ixias enter a new area as Randall Modiba takes the reigns as new coach and while they want to build on what was put in place in the past, they do prefer to view that as history.

Modiba brings experience to Bloemfontein after previously having coached the Boland Cavaliers in the professional ranks.

The Ixias have managed to retain the bulk of their players from their previous campaign and Modiba feels that his squad is a lot more mature this season and they will take the lessons from the past.

“Last year is history but I think that the players are much more mature and they learnt a lot of good lessons and they've grown. It's important to build on that and just get the team to the next level. That's the understanding and buy-in that all the players have, so they know exactly what is expected of them.”

After missing the semi-finals of last year’s competition by just two points, FNB UJ head coach Jonathan Mokuena believes that his charges have had enough time to bounce back and prepare for the 2024 FNB Varsity Cup.

“[There’s been] a lot of excitement, obviously. It’s been a long, almost 20 weeks of preparations. There is excitement now that the boys are ready to go and measure themselves against the teams that they are going to play.”

The Orange Army head into the season without some of their marquee players, such as Mpho Kubheka, former co-captain Kelvin Kanenungo, Shaun Bexter and Elijah Kwitando.

“We have lost about six players to other universities and it’s something we cannot control. Those are quality players. That experience you don’t pick up overnight. It comes with time, it comes with investing in them. They will be missed but it is an opportunity for the new kids to step up,” says Mokuena.

UJ has never lifted the coveted trophy, however, Mokuena hopes that this is the year they tell a different story.

“That is ultimately our goal, and we want to make the university proud.”