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11 November 2019 | in NUSF News, Rugby

Rugby World Cup champion squad filled with university athletes

History was made a week ago, as South Africa lifted their third Webb Ellis trophy after beating England 32-12 to be crowned this year’s Rugby World Cup champions.


The victory came off the back of a successful year for the South Africans, who were successful in the shortened Rugby Championship competition – an annual tournament involving southern hemisphere powerhouses New Zealand, Australia and Argentina – for the first time since 2009.

South Africa celebrating. Image courtesy: SpringboksWhile the endless celebrations continue in South Africa, it is worth noting the achievement of the university rugby structures in the country; with an impressive 12 of the 31 members of the World Cup winning squad having played the sport at university level.


World renowned for their rugby prowess, South Africa boasts two high quality national university rugby tournaments which are held on an annual basis: the Varsity Cup, a tournament involving eight of the best university rugby teams in the country, as well as the Varsity Shield, a second-tier tournament involving another eight university teams.


Bongi Mbonambi Tuks. Image courtesy varsity sportFrom the national team’s World Cup winning squad, ten members featured in the Varsity Cup in the past while two participated in the Varsity Shield. And these athletes were not just bit-part players at the global spectacle in Japan: six of these players started the victorious final over England, while a further three came on off the bench to help the side to tournament glory.


Four players are graduates from the University of Pretoria, one of the best performing rugby tertiary institutions in the country: Bongi Mbonambi (right), star fly-half Handre Pollard, Franco Mostert who plays in the lock position, and Vincent Koch.


It was a year to remember for Koch, who enjoyed the most successful year in his career to date, winning not only the World Cup and Rugby Championship with South Africa, but also the Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership with English club Saracens.


Damian de Allende UCT. Image courtesy Gallo ImagesTwo World Cup winners hail from the University of Cape Town in towering lock Eben Etzebeth and centre Damian de Allende.


Lock Lood de Jager, who entered the field on four occasions at the World Cup this year, featured for 2012 Varity Cup semi-finalists North West University, while hooker Malcolm Marx, who played six of South Africa’s seven matches in Japan, was a star for the University of Johannesburg in 2013, where he scored four tries in eight matches for his university side.


The ninth former university rugby player to feature for South Africa in last weekend’s historic final was scrum-half Herschel Jantijies. Just 23 years of age, the talented Jantijies was in South Africa’s university rugby system as recently as two years ago, where he featured for the University of the Western Cape.


Three other national team players who were in the Springbok squad but missed the final include Trevor Nyakane, Sbu Nkosi and Warrick Gelant.


Herschel Jantjies UWC. Image courtesy SASPAFrancois Pienaar, the legendary South African captain who lifted the country’s first World Cup in 1995, is the co-founder of the Varsity Cup, which has over the years produced 45 national rugby team players. He is delighted that his initial dream has become a reality.


“To have so many players from the Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield in the Springbok squad is the dream I envisioned when I started the Varsity Cup in 2009 (sic),” he told the media. “Players like Bongi Mbonambi, Handre Pollard and Damian de Allende have stood out in this team and what’s really special is having Varsity Shield players Sbu Nkosi and Herschel Jantjies playing their role in getting the Springboks to the final.”


“Considering the competitiveness we’ve seen in the last two years in the Varsity Cup, I think we can expect many more Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield stars to graduate to the Springboks squad at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.”


There’s little doubt that the next generation of South Africa’s national stars will continue being produced from the country’s university structures, proof and motivation to many that education and sport can go hand in hand.