Ex-Blitzboks captain: Varsity Cup gave me exposure, confidence

FNB Varsity Cup

The life-changing opportunity to play for FNB UCT during the first-ever FNB Varsity Cup in 2008 gave Kyle Brown’s burgeoning rugby career a big boost.

The flanker made seven appearances for the Ikey Tigers, who came into the inaugural tournament as rank outsiders. But while they lost their opening match at home against FNB NWU-Pukke, they went on to win their next six and finish top of the eight-team log.

“A huge moment for us was when we toppled Maties [38-34] in George,” recalls Brown. “That was the first of three matches we played there over the Easter weekend.”

FNB UCT’s semi-final was a rematch against FNB NWU-Pukke at the Green Mile, played in a gale-force wind.

“We trailed by a big margin at half-time after playing into the wind but fought back well in the second half with the wind at our backs,” says Brown. “Matthew Rosslee ended up kicking a late, long-range penalty to win it for us [32-31].”

That set up a dream decider against FNB Maties. However, while FNB UCT had earned the right to host it, having topped the log, inadequate floodlights at the Green Mile saw it moved to Stellenbosch University.

Despite losing home-ground advantage, the Ikey Tigers led 10-9 at a sold-out Danie Craven Stadium with time up on the clock. Unfortunately for them, they lost possession and Morné Jooste scored a dramatic match-winning try for FNB Maties.

“It was obviously disappointing to lose like that, but great to be a part of such an epic final,” says Brown, for whom the first FNB Varsity Cup tournament came at just the right time.

“The Varsity Cup gave me a much greater level of exposure than regular club rugby,” he says. “I also gained confidence by playing at a higher level, which I took into the local club season and the Western Province U21 setup.”

Brown’s size would count against him at WP, but at the end of 2008, he was called up by the Blitzboks, making his debut in Dubai and going on to captain the team for two seasons.

By the time Brown decided to hang up his boots, in 2019, he had played in 347 matches and 69 tournaments for the Blitzboks, scoring 89 tries.

He won three World Rugby Sevens Series titles (2008-09, 2016-17 and 2017-18), a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

– This is the first instalment in a series of FNB Varsity Cup Changing Lives articles focusing on those whose lives were forever changed by Rugby That Rocks.