South Africa’s premier varsity rugby competition returns late this afternoon, and I for one, cannot wait to see the next generation of provincial, and possibly national stars, go at it hammer and tongs.
The competition has unearthed some gems over the past few years with the likes of Rudi Paige, Nizaam Carr, Damian De Allende, Handre Pollard, and Lood De Jaeger paying testament to the tournaments mandate of developing players for provincial and national honours.
Anyway, enough with the pleasantries. Let’s move on to today’s action.
To Win (80 Mins)
UP-Tuks (-17.5) 9/10
NWU-Pukke (+17.5) 9/10
Our first port of call is the Tuks Stadium in Pretoria where revenge will be on the agenda for the hosts. The last encounter between the two sides saw Pukke knock Tuks out at the semi-final stage of last year’s tournament.
Traditionally Tuks have been extremely competitive. They’ve won two out of the eight tournaments they’ve played in and have never failed to make it through to the knockout phase of the competition.
Coach Pote Human has selected a strong side that will be led by junior Springbok skipper Ruan Steenkamp. The flanker isn't the only higher level representative that Tuks will have in their starting line-up this evening. Utility prop, Andrew Beerwinkel has made four appearances for the Blue Bulls’ senior side while fullback, Riaan Britz, has also turned out for the Bulls at Currie Cup level.
While Tuks have a wealth of experienced players to call upon, their opponents have a much younger squad. That’s not to say they won’t be able to compete with Tuks though. Pukke’s young guns had a fantastic campaign last year that saw them finish the 2015 season as runners-up. With their squad a year old and a year wiser, they should be able to improve on what was a brilliant showing last term.
In terms of the players to watch out for in this one, I’d recommend keeping an eye out for Pukke’s eigthman Marno Redelinghuis and Tuks’ pivot Josh Stander. Redelinghuis is an absolute workhorse and relishes the contact situation while Stander is a skilful ten with a boot like a cannon.
Verdict: Tuks 1/3
It’s going to be a tight one and i wouldn't muck about with the handicaps. My money is on the home side kicking their campaign off with a win.
To Win (80 Mins)
UCT Ikeys 12/10
UFS Shimlas 7/10
UCT Ikeys (+2.5) 17/20
UFS Shimlas (-2.5) 17/20
So we move on from the hard fields of Pretoria to the lush green grass of Cape Town for our second fixture of the day, where last year’s losing semi-finalist UCT Ikeys will host defending champions UFS Shimlas.
The hosts come into this one off a positive preseason which saw them take on a Stormers B-side. When asked about their preseason preparations Ikeys head coach and ex-stormer Hanni Shimange stated “We had a really good camp and preseason overall. The Players had fun and although they already knew each other, they got a chance to know one another even better. In terms of our culture, we all know where we’re heading. We’re all on the same page here.” So as you can tell, the former ‘Bok thinks his side are primed to kick their campaign off on the right foot.
His opposite number, Hendro Scholtz, has also stated that he is satisfied with his charges preseason. The former Cheetahs man will field a vastly experienced side this evening that features seasoned campaigners Elandre Huggert, Stefan Janse van Rensburg, and Pieter Steyn de Wet.
In terms of players to watch, Ikeys centre Lihleli Xoli is definitely worth keeping an eye on while Shimlas fullback Sechaba Matsoele is set to make a big impact for the visitors.
Verdict: Shimlas (-2.5) 9/10
These opening round games are always tough to call. I’m going to back the away side to clear the handicap here. They have a quality squad that is capable of getting their title defence off to the most positive of starts.
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