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.
The Varsity Cup competition kicks off on Monday 19 February when FNB UFS Shimlas and FNB UCT Ikeys take to the field in Cape Town (16:45). The clash between FNB WSU and FNB UKZN in Mdantsane at the Sisa Dukashe Stadium (19:00) on Thursday 22 February sees the start of the Varsity Shield competition.
After back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles last year by the Springboks in France, all eyes will be on the future stars of South African rugby for the next two months. And with more than 50 players having made the giant leap from Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield to the Springboks, including multiple World Cup winners, it is no wonder that Varsity Cup founder and 1995 Rugby World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar says he is proud of the achievements so far.
"The competitiveness we've witnessed in Varsity Cup and Shield promises the graduation of even more stars to the Springboks, affirming that the system works as a perfect bridge between high school and provincial rugby.
“I’m also excited by developments in the Shield competition with the addition of a Varsity College team highlighting the importance of promotion and relegation. And then building on the success of last year’s first FNB Varsity Cup Women, this year FNB UWC will be joining, reflecting the significant growth of women's rugby.
“In essence, these developments amplify the Varsity Cup and Shield's role as the ultimate platform for aspiring rugby players, fostering talent and diversity whilst playing cracking rugby!"
There are a few notable changes from the 2023 competition and a few additional highlights for 2024. These include that the majority of Shield matches will take place on Fridays with only a handful on Thursdays.
There is furthermore great excitement around mascots that will be a key feature of this year’s tournament. According to Pienaar, this will add a certain “vibrancy and spirit to the matches.”
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.
Fresh of a five-day training camp on the banks of the Vaal River, NWU head coach Burger van der Westhuizen says while it was fantastic to go into this year’s competition as defending champions, they are under no illusion as to what lies ahead in 2024.
“What happened last year, happened last year and we are starting this year on a clean slate. The Varsity Cup is probably the best university competition in the world and looking at the teams who will compete this year, it is once again going to be extremely tough. Any team can win or lose on any given Monday. I am happy with our preparations so far as all the guys have put in the hard yards to be ready for the couple of months.”
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.
UWC head coach Paul Treu says climbing the ladder to the Varsity Cup is a daunting task, but not a challenge they are going to shy away from.
“We are grateful to be back in the main competition, as a university we believe that is where we belong. Our first goal is going to be to stay in the Varsity Cup and then to prevent the up-and-down from one year you are in the Cup, and then the next you are back in the Shield. So, we need to create some form of consistency in our performances and to stay in the Cup for longer than what other people may think.”
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