JOHANNESBURG – The University of Pretoria capped off a memorable 2018 Varsity Sports programme with victory in the annual Rugby Sevens tournament, helping them claim top spot among South Africa’s best sporting universities.
Now in its sixth year of existence, Varsity Sports is a group of university sports leagues in South Africa which has now expanded to nine different sporting codes, where the country’s best universities compete for top honours and bragging rights.
The last of the nine sporting codes of the 2018 programme was the Rugby Sevens tournament, which was held earlier this month at the Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg.
Twelve universities participated in the competition, divided into three groups of four teams each. The highest overall points earners from each group progressed to the quarter-finals.
Following Day 1’s action, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and University of the North West (NWU) emerged as the only two sides unscathed in the pool stages as they won all three of their matches. An infringement of the competition’s rules meant that the University of Pretoria’s (Tuks) 29-12 victory over University of Johannesburg (UJ) was reversed, resulting in a 20-0 win for the latter.
Day 2 witnessed the quarter-finals, as a number of high-scoring and entertaining spectacles kept the boisterous crowd on their feet. Both the undefeated CPUT and NWU were knocked out of the tournament by Nelson Mandela University (NMU) and University of the Western Cape (UWC) respectively, while Tuks impressed with a 57-10 win over University of the Free State.
Reigning champions UJ were still on course to defend the title they won last year following their astounding performance in shutting out University of Stellenbosch with a 29-0 win.
In the Last Four, NWU was no match for UJ, who stormed to a 38-12 victory, while Tuks sealed their berth in the final in similar fashion with a 36-12 win over UWC.
It all then boiled down to the final between the two provincial rivals Tuks and UJ, who started the better of the two sides as Ronald Brown – who starred in South Africa’s FISU WUC Rugby Sevens tournament victory in Namibia in July – crossed the try-line for the final’s opening points, before Tuks’ Lourens Pretorius levelled the score.
Brown, who has recently been promoted to South Africa’s senior rugby sevens team, then showed his class once more, running over half the length of the field to dot down his second try and give his side a 14-7 half-time lead.
Neither side gave an inch in the opening stages of the second half, and with the scoreboard still reading 14-7 in favour of UJ with a minute left, it seemed the defending champions would make it two wins in a row. Yet the unpredictability of rugby sevens, combined with the competition’s unique rule of the ‘power play’ came to Tuks’ rescue as a clever kick-and-chase by Lorenzo Cloete saw him cross the try-line to claim the winning points.
Tuks emerged 19-17 winners to win their first Varsity Cup Rugby Sevens title in dramatic fashion.
“The tougher the battle, the sweeter the victory,” said Tuks player Dewald Naude after the final. “It must be one of the best performances ever by a Tuks sevens side. And to be able to contribute in a small way to our victory made the whole experience so much more rewarding.”
The men from Pretoria scored a total of 201 points across the tournament, made up from 31 tries, while they only conceded eight, leaving their coach Dabeon Draghoender a very happy man. “I am really impressed with our defence,” he said. “To concede only eight tries in six games really shows how hungry and committed the players were. They were also brilliant with ball in hand.”
The Rugby Sevens victory saw Tuks emerge at the summit of the overall Varsity Sports standings, which comprises of all 24 universities in the country.
Of the nine sporting codes in the competition, Tuks tasted victory in four of them, including cricket, athletics, hockey and sevens rugby, racking up the maximum 17 points allocated to the victors of every competition in those four tournaments.
Picture credits: Images all courtesy of Varsity Sports