The Fanie du Toit Sports Ground is the home of the FNB NWU rugby team, but it is the sense of home that it creates for the fans that makes the experience that much more memorable.
Out of all the teams that have competed in this year's Varsity Cup competition, it is the North-West University that have pulled out all the stops. Varsity Cup is not just a rugby game on a Monday night during the first half of the first semester, but a fundamental part of the student life in Potchefstroom.
At least two hours before kick-off, fans flock to the 'Fanie' – the name locals use when referring to the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds. In sunshine or rain, they come out in full force sporting their new grey and purple Varsity Cup t-shirts. With a stadium capacity of only 5000, young and old scurry for the best seats on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you take a look at the field before the match kicks off, you'll see a massive South African flag that lays across the grass, children that walk out alongside the players, flag bearers that spell out “NWU”, Harley Davidsons that line up on either side of the field, a military tank that cruises across the length of the field to set off smoke before the anthem is sung, the voices of almost every person in the audience singing the national anthem to the tune of a band or orchestra, and a canon that signals the start of the match.
Some may see it as too much, but it is what makes FNB NWU unique.
Karen Truter, a Masters student at the University of Stellenbosch, says that the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds have a special place in her heart, even though she is a student at another university. Having grown up in Potchefstroom, Truter says, “I can't put my finger on it, but there's something special about Potch, the campus, the students and the community. When the team runs out onto the field on a Monday night, watch the crowd. Look at their facial expressions. There are smiles and excitement. Look at the detail, cooperation, effort and passion. Varsity Cup in Potch is more than just rugby.”
“The atmosphere is indescribable. It is a feeling, an experience, a privilege, a lifestyle, a tradition – it is student life. Until you've been there, you won't understand. And those who have watched a Varsity Cup match at the Fanie du Toit will agree. Do yourself a favour, go experience it. You don't get any better than it.”
Nadine van Staden, a final year student at the North-West University also summed up her Varsity Cup experience.
“I love Varsity Cup and what it represents. The best part of the new academic year is always the start of the Varsity Cup season, and during that time there is no better place to spend your Monday evening than at the Fanie. It's a place where my friends and I can forget about studying for a while and simply embrace the student life.
“I love that there are drinks sold, a Steers stand where I can buy my dinner at half time and an after-party at the conclusion of the final whistle. If there is one thing I will miss the most about being a student, it will have to be the Varsity Cup matches and how much the students loved rugby.”
Home-ground advantage could definitely be factored into FNB NWU's success this season, as they did not lose a single home game. The FNB NWU rugby team is the pride of the North-West University campus, and they have done everything right to deserve the support they receive week in and week out. FNB NWU are set to take on FNB Maties in the final on Monday 16 April at the Danie Craven Stadium, with the hopes of causing the same upset they did in 2016 when they won the final by a single point.