The FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International is building up to be one epic final. UFS Shimlas take on NWU-Pukke at Shimla Park in Bloemfontein on Monday night and excitement is at fever pitch. Pukke snuck into the final with an epic 29-28 victory over Tuks in the semi-finals while Shimlas have gone unbeaten all season.
For coaches Robert Du Preez and Franco Smith, the challenge ahead is an exciting one. Du Preez says: ‘We’ve recovered from that semi-final, it’s just a distant memory now. But we’re very excited, we kind of snuck into the final, but we’re very excited to be here.’ Shimlas finished second on the overall log, going unbeaten after winning six and drawing one of their matches. Coach Smith says although this creates expectation from outside the team, Shimlas are focussing only on the task at hand.
He says: ‘It creates a lot of expectation. But the semi-final and final are different games. We’re not feeling any pressure.’ Smith’s opposite number is a wily old fox and played a few mind games in the semi-final when the team that ran onto the pitch did not resemble the team named prior to the game. For Du Preez, it was a matter of playing his cards close to his chest because ‘every little bit of advantage helps’, but Smith insists that he is not too bothered about these mini battles.
The Shimlas coach says: ‘I don’t care about the mind games. Finals are basically starting from scratch and no matter who is in front of you, you have to give your best.’ Both coaches concede that the game will be won or lost by their forward packs and although it’s expected that there will be some water on the field in the second half, which will make expansive plays tricky, set-pieces will be critical. Off the field, big crowds are expected with Bloemfontein already buzzing ahead of the final.
Smith says: ‘It’s been great to be on campus and there’s a lot of preparation being done. It’s going to be a special evening. I’ve heard there will be a lot of NWU-Puk supporters coming to the match which creates a great inter-varsity vibe.’ With a battalion of fans expected for both teams the pressure is certainly building. For both coaches, lifting the Cup on Monday night will be reward for their hard work during the course of the season.
Du Preez says: ‘It means a hell of a lot to win a competition like this. It’s one of the premier competitions in South Africa. The innovation in the competition is phenomenal. And we’re not just playing for the Cup. We’re playing for our university and for our town.’ Smith says: ‘It’s been a great privilege being involved in a competition like this. When I wasn’t in South Africa, I heard a lot of talk about the type of rugby being played at the Varsity Cup and it was all true. It’s a great competition and an integral part of south African rugby.’ For both coaches, the chance to coach a Varsity Cup Dream Team is also up for grabs.
The Dream Team will take on the Junior Boks at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 21 April 2015. The fixture will be broadcast live on SuperSport 201 from 18:30. For the time being, though, all the focus is on the final and if the previous meeting between these two teams is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.
Photo credit: Mario van de Wall