Varsity Cup set for kick-off
The 2013 Varsity Rugby season was lanuched in Kempton Park on Monday, with an exciting air of unpredictability hanging over the main tournament.
Now in its sixth season, the 2013 Varsity Cup remains the headline act of Varsity Rugby, with the three additional competitions - the Varsity Shield, the Varsity Young Guns and the Koshuisrugby Championships - providing a more than able 'back-up' to the Cup.
UP-Tuks deservedly became the first northern winners in the Varsity Cup last season, but teams like last year's losing finalists, the Maties, will be waiting for the new champions in 2013.
Nollis Marais continues as coach in Pretoria, despite handing over Tuks' Carlton League reins, whilst the Maties - for the first time ever - will start the Varsity Cup without their canny mentor Chean Roux, former Springbok fly-half Chris Rossouw having taken over in Stellenbosch.
Another former international rugby player, Michael Horak (who won one cap for England in 2002), has joined the fray as the new Shimlas coach; meaning that every team in the history of the Varsity Cup has now had at least one change of coach since 2008.
Ex-Maties boss Roux and former Shimlas coach Jaco Swanepoel had both been part of the Varsity Cup furniture since 2008 but have joined the likes of John Dobson (UCT - now Western Province), Matthew Proudfoot (NWU-Pukke - now Stormers/WP) and Nollis Marais (UP-Tuks and Bulls) in having landed provincial coaching jobs - at senior or youth provincial level. Marais, however, will continue as Tuks' coach during the Varsity Cup - with Bart Schoeman (who will assist Marais during the Varsity Cup) coaching the team during the Carlton League.
Of course, current Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was part of the UP-Tuks coaching staff in 2011 and Meyer's Bok predecessor, Peter de Villiers, has since landed a job as UWC's coaching director in the Varsity Shield.
Speaking at Monday's launch in Kempton Park, which had former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad as the MC and SARU CEO Jurie Roux addressing the audience, Varsity Cup Managing Director Duitser Bosman said: "Without long-serving coaches like Chean and Jaco there is a different feeling in the air this year... a feeling of uncertainty, but all in a good way, of course.
"Losing two experienced coaches like Chean and Jaco would be a blow to anyone, but, at the same time, it gives new coaches an opportunity to make a name for themselves in a tough tournament like the Varsity Cup. Hopefully these new coaches will stay in their jobs for a long period and add value at a higher level in SA Rugby in years to come.
"There is plenty to play for, for everyone, in what is set to be one of the most open Varsity Cup tournaments since the inaugural tournament kicked-off in 2008. It's an exciting phase for us, as organisers, with all the new faces and we look forward to seeing how it plays out in the 2013 season - in the Cup, Shield, Young Guns and Koshuis tournaments."
SARU CEO Jurie Roux, Chairman of the Varsity Cup Board, commented: "The Varsity Cup is a well-organised tournament and such an asset to SA Rugby in giving so many new young talents the opportunity to showcase their abilities. We're all looking forward to another exciting and successful year of Varsity Rugby."
The 2013 Varsity Rugby action will get underway at the end of January with the Varsity Shield tournament kicking-off on January 28.
Defending Varsity Cup champions, UP-Tuks, will get their Varsity Cup title defence off to a tricky start when they travel to Potchefstroom to take on the NWU-Pukke on Monday, February 4 at 7pm.
In a slight change to the schedule this year there will be two finals weeks in the 2013 Varsity Rugby competition. April 1 will see the Varsity Shield and Young Guns Finals take place, followed by two more finals the next week; the Steinhoff Koshuisrugby Championships Final and the Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International Final - both of which will take place on Monday, April 8.
The much talked-about points-scoring system of two points for a penalty and a drop-goal and three points for a conversion, which was first trialled last year, will continue in 2013.