University of Johannesburg claim Rugby Sevens glory in the men’s tournament while University of Pretoria win inaugural women’s championship
An entertaining two-day Rugby Sevens spectacle came a thrilling close following the culmination of this year’s Varsity Rugby Sevens tournament, which took place at Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The annual tournament, which forms part of the various Varsity Sports competitions between tertiary institutions in South Africa, saw 12 of the best universities in the country square off against each other in the eighth edition of the men’s tournament, while for the first time in Varsity Sports Rugby Sevens history, a women’s tournament simultaneously took place, drawing four competing South African universities.
In the men’s competition, the 12 teams were divided into three groups of four, with the eight top-scoring teams according to points gained progressing to day two’s knockout stages.
Defending champions University of Pretoria continued where they left off last season with a resounding 55-0 victory over University of Fort Hare in the opening fixture of Group A, yet they would be undone 38-5 later in the day by University of the Free State, who topped the group.
University of Johannesburg went unbeaten to end top of Group B, as did University of the Western Cape who ended at the summit of Group C, ending day one with a nail-biting 24-22 victory over provincial rivals University of Stellenbosch.
Quarter-final action on day two began with a shock result as unbeaten University of the Free State, who had achieved the highest points of all teams on day one, were dumped out of the tournament by Nelson Mandela University, who had recorded two losses and just a single victory the day before.
There were no hiccups for perennial heavyweights University of Johannesburg and University of Pretoria as they marched on to the final four, where they were joined by the University of Stellenbosch.
Interesting to note that of all the squad players from all teams in the final four, only two were part of the national Rugby 7s side that took home the silver medal at the FISU Summer Universiade in Napoli earlier this year, a true reflection of the abundance of rugby talent in the country.
In a straight shootout for a final berth, University of Johannesburg – beaten finalists last year – took down Nelson Mandela University 26-12 to book their ticket in the gold medal match, while reigning champions University of Pretoria were denied the chance to defend their crown after going down 24-5 to the University of Stellenbosch.
The University of Johannesburg had reason to believe their finals curse had struck yet again after going a man down early in the first half of the final showdown, yet despite the disadvantage, they managed to breach the Stellenbosch defence as Musawenkosi Tshabalala’s 70-metre solo effort saw him touch down for the first try of the game, which was shortly followed by another in the ‘power play’ period, the bonus points meaning University of Johannesburg headed into half-time 15-0 up.
Stellenbosch put up a fight in the second period, yet could not break down a resilient University of Johannesburg defence, and after eventual Player of the Tournament Odwa Nkunjana side-stepped three opponents to dot down his team’s third try, the result was all but secured, with the scoreboard reading 20-0 to the home side who made up for last year’s heartbreak to secured the 2019 title.
In the women’s competition, the University of Pretoria, known as Tuks, set the tone with two victories from two after day one, with the University of Fort Hare matching them stride for stride. Yet when the two sides met in the last group stage game on Day 2, it was the women from Pretoria who prevailed, comfortably edging their opponents 29-7.
The clash would be a curtain-raiser for the eventual final where the two sides would square off once again, this time for the coveted trophy, yet Tuks showed no remorse in their merciless 46-0 victory to be crowned the very first Varsity Rugby 7s women’s champions.
“It was essential for us to not only win the trophy for the University of Pretoria but also to showcase women’s sevens rugby. I believe we have succeeded in doing so,” said beaming University of Pretoria head coach Riaan van der Merwe after the final.
Kemisestso Baloyi, who scored two tries in the final re-iterated her coach’s sentiments, showcasing her pride in being part of the first triumphant women’s team in the competition as she eyes the game’s growth in future.
“We played the very first game in the Varsity Women’s 7s tournament as well as being the first champions,” she said.
“From a women’s sevens rugby perspective, I want to thank the organisers for giving us this opportunity. Hopefully, our tournament will go from strength to strength with more teams participating next year.”
The University of Pretoria celebrating the title of finest university women’s Rugby Sevens team in style in Johannesburg
Article image credits: Photos one, two, three and five courtesy of Varsity Sports. Fourth image courtesy of Kemi Baloyi: Reg Caldecott