Varsity Cup 2018: Round 1 Preview

Two players tackling a player

Rugby fans are in for a treat this Monday with the countries top varsity sides set to get the 2018 Varsity Cup underway. 


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The South African rugby season officially gets underway tonight with the start of the 10th edition of the Varsity Cup. The tournament will see South Africa's top nine Varsity sides do battle for top honours over a two-and-a-half month period. Defending champions, Tuks, head into this one as tournament favourites with the Pretoria university likely to face stiff competition from UJ, Maties and perhaps NWU.

The reigning trophy holders will get the opening round underway when they lock horns with Shimlas in Monday's opener. The game will be followed by a double-header with Ikeys and Wits as well as NMWU and CUT going head-to-head in the simultaneous 18:30 kick off. While the final game of the opening round sees UJ tackle Maties up in Johannesburg.

Tuks v Shimlas | Tuks Stadium | Monday 29 January | 15:45

To Win (80 Mins)
Tuks 2/11 | Draw 30/1 | Shimlas 7/2
Handicap
Tuks (-11.5) 17/20 | Shimlas (+11.5) 17/20

The Cheetahs may not be playing Super Rugby this year but we will get to witness Pretoria and Bloemfontein do battle prior to the Currie Cup with Pretoria's darlings and the Free States' young guns squaring off the evening. Both of these universities are breeding grounds for future provincial stars, so don't be surprised to see a few of these lads locking horns in blue and orange in the coming years.

The hosts come into this one as deserved favourites. Not only are they the reigning champs but they also beat their opponents twice during last year's edition of the tournament. The first of these victories was a rather emphatic one with Tuks running out 19-65 winners in Bloemfontein. The second victory came at the semi-final stage and was certainly a more even contest with Tuks winning by a 28-21 scoreline. 

Verdict: Tuks (-11.5) 9/10
I quite fancy Tuks to clear the handicap here. They have a vastly experienced squad and I think the Shimlas may struggle for fluidity during the opening salvos of the season as they have endured a lot of player turnover.


UCT Ikeys v Wits | Monday 29 January | UCT Rugby Fields | 18:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Ikeys 9/10 | Draw 22/1 | Wits 9/10

Our next fixture sees last year's strugglers, UCT Ikeys, take on surprisingly competitive Wits at the UCT Rugby Fields. The hosts endured a dire 2017 and ended the season in eighth-place, only six points off cellar-dwellers CUT. Wits, on the other hand, enjoyed a marvellous first campaign back in the big time, with the 2016 Varsity Shield Champions finishing the 2017 season only two points off the semi-final berths.

A new year breeds new hope will be the motto for UCT fans this season as 2014 champions look to restore their once mighty name. Wits, who have been rank underdogs, will be looking to again box above their weight division but that may prove tougher this time around as they have lost some key men, including talented fly-half Warren Gilbert.

Verdict: UCT 9/10
This is really a cop-out from me, as I honestly have no idea how this one will pan out. Wits impressed this year but they have lost a handful of stars while UCT have enjoyed a decent pre-season. A very small play on a home win is the route I'm going to take with this one.

NWU Pukke v CUT | Monday 29 January | Fanie du Toit Sportsgrounds | 18:30

To Win (80 Mins)
NWU 1/9| Draw 30/1 | CUT 5/1
Handicap
NWU (-17.5) 17/20 | CUT (+17.5) 17/20

Last year's whipping boys, CUT, face a harrowing start to the campaign as they take on NWU Pukke out in Potchefstroom. The hosts may have endured a mediocre 2016 campaign by their high standards, finishing the season in sixth place, but their campaign was nowhere near as wretched as that of CUT who ended the season at the foot of the table without even a win to show for their endeavours.

We bared witness to an exhilarating game when these two sides locked horns last year with NWU edging a high-scoring thriller 38-43. Hopefully, we get treated to the sequel of that particular blockbuster this evening. 

Verdict: NWU (-17.5) 17/20
My money is on a big Pukke win here, The hosts have a solid squad while CUT just look a bit too green for my liking. I'm going to be having a medium-sized wager on the home side winning by a large but by no means insurmountable handicap. 

UJ v Maties | Monday 29 January | UJ Stadium | 19:00

To Win (80 Mins)
UJ 17/10 | Draw 25/1 | Maties 4/10
Handicap
UJ (+6.5) 910 | Maties (-6.5) 9/10

The final fixture of the day sees last year's defeated finalist and the most successful team in the tournament's history, Maties, square off perennial underperformers, UJ. The hosts for this encounter once again bowed at the semi-final stage in last year's edition as they went down 22-14 to this evening's opponents down in Stellenbosch. That was the second of the two meetings between these sides in 2016, with the first encounter seeing Maties run out 65-19 victors.

The visitors have lost a hell-of-a-lot of players during the offseason including utility back Craig Barry, who is now plying his trade with the Free State Cheetahs in the Pro14. As such, I think Maties may well struggle to reach the lofty heights they have in previous editions of the tournament.

Verdict: UJ (+5.5) 17/20
They may have been blown away by Maties in the round-robin phase last year but I can seem UJ putting up a solid fight on home soil this Monday. As such, I'm all over the hosts on the plus 5.5 line. 

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net

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