FNB Varsity Cup was my baptism of fire – Proudfoot

FNB Varsity Cup

World Cup-winning Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot, who is now part of the  England setup, explains how the first edition of the FNB Varsity Cup changed his life.

It was a huge privilege to coach FNB NWU-Pukke in the 2008 tournament. Other coaches that year included Chean Roux (FNB Maties) and John Dobson (FNB UCT Ikeys).

We knew the FNB Varsity Cup was going to have a massive impact on South African rugby.

Players who hadn’t received an opportunity to get into the professional game were given a chance to play at a high level. They were also given more more time to develop their game – not all players develop at the same rate – while studying.

As far as my coaching career is concerned, the FNB Varsity Cup gave me an opportunity as a young coach to be involved in a really tough, week-in, week-out competition that simulated professional rugby for a coach. The tournament was my baptism of fire.

Until then, Pukke had participated in relatively weak tournaments so it was pretty much hit and miss for a coach. The FNB Varsity Cup allows coaches to prepare a team for tough matches every week as if they are preparing a professional team.

The universities deserve a lot of credit for taking that big leap of faith in 2008 and putting structures in place that included professional coaches. I’m really grateful to North-West University for giving me an opportunity to take the next step and become a professional coach. After coaching in the FNB Varsity Cup [and winning the National Club Championships later that year], I joined Western Province and the Stormers.

What I remember most about Pukke’s 2008 FNB Varsity Cup campaign is our semi-final at UCT. It was a tough game played in gale-force wind.

We played with the wind in the first half and had the chance to kick a conversion just before half-time that would have put us ahead by more than 21 points, or three converted tries. We missed it and I remember telling my assistant coach “We’re in trouble here”.

That proved to be the case. We didn’t take an opportunity to win late in the game and then UCT, who had the wind behind them, kicked a long-range penalty to win [32-31].

It was disappointing to miss out on the final, but for a small university like Pukke to compete on that stage against big universities was a real feel-good factor for me.

The FNB Varsity Cup is a really great competition and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

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