UWC Men celebrate Varsity 7s (photo courtesy of Varsity Sports Facebook page)
Back-to-back rugby 7s tournaments in South Africa showcased the sublime talent the rugby-rich nation boasts, once again highlighting the high level of competition at university level. Both South Africa’s men and women’s Rugby 7s teams reached the semi-final stage at the Naples 2019 FISU World University Games, and with these two tournaments proved that university rugby 7s in the country is in a well and truly healthy state.
The last weekend of September, 22 men’s and 20 women’s rugby 7s teams representing 24 different universities from across the country converged in Kimberley, as the Sol Plaatjie University hosted the highly-anticipated annual University Sports South Africa (USSA) Rugby 7s Championship.
UJ Women win Varsity 7s (photo courtesy of Varsity Sports Facebook page)There was fanfare all around, with a 5km night race mid-week, Sol Plaatjie’s mascot ‘Gemmie’ creating a buzz everywhere it went, and face-painting and outlandish outfits the order of the day even before the opening ceremony officially got proceedings underway.
In the women’s event, Stellenbosch University dominated from start to finish, opening up their campaign with an emphatic 49-0 victory over Wits University. The team had been on a three-day training camp off-campus earlier in September – the first time they had undertaken such an initiative – with the results paying dividends. Five consecutive victories saw them line up against the University of Johannesburg in the final, seeing off their opponents 21-7 to claim tournament victory.
“This team has gone through many ups and downs and the tournament win means a lot to the group,” Stellenbosch head coach Johann Zeier told the university’s website after the win. “Moving forward, the players must firstly all get their degrees, and then through rugby, they can learn that anything they set their minds to, they can achieve.”
There were a number of hard-fought battles in the men’s division, yet come the afternoon of Day 2 only two teams remained: the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the North West University (NWU), with the latter earning a well-deserved 29-12 win to take the trophy home.
Photo courtesy of Sol Plaatjie University facebook page
Despite the final loss, UWC showed impressive grit and determination to bounce back immediately in the prestigious Varsity 7s tournament just two weeks later.
The annual competition, which sees eight of South Africa’s top Rugby 7s universities battle it out for national honours, returned after a two-year hiatus owing to the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Hosted by the University of Pretoria, whose teams ranked first in both the men’s and women’s divisions, Day 1 provided thrilling action, high-scoring encounters and several unexpected upsets in the men’s competition. This included USSA Rugby 7s champions NWU going down 41-14 to the University of Johannesburg and UWC drawing their opener 19-19 with University of the Free State 19-19, which went on to humble favourites University of Pretoria 34-17 later in the day.
Semi-final 1 saw UWC exact revenge over NWU – who had beaten them in the USSA Rugby 7s final two weeks prior – 24-14, while in semi-final 2, defending Varsity 7s champions University of Johannesburg were trounced 31-5 by the University of the Free State.
Thus, the two teams who had drawn their opening fixture met once again in the final, and as expected it went down to the wire. UFS took a 19-14 half-time lead, only for UWC to show tremendous mental strength to fight back and take the gold medal with a narrow 21-19 victory.
“I think what worked for us was just trusting each other,” UWC captain Peter Williams told the university’s website. “Knowing your teammate has your back and sticking to our processes and our systems from the start. This victory is for everyone in the club, in the Department of Sport Administration and in the university as a whole.”
In the women’s competition, University of Johannesburg obliterated everyone in their path, recording impressive 34-0, 58-0 and 64-0 victories in the group stages en route to the final where University of Fort Hare held their own but could not stop the ‘Orange Machine’ who powered to a 17-5 victory and recorded their first varsity 7s title.