The spotlight turns to varsity rugby’s second division tonight as the eagerly anticipated FNB Varsity Shield presented by Steinhoff International kicks off across the country.
With three Eastern Cape teams in Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu and Rhodes University all in action, interest in the competition in the province is set to be sky high.
A huge derby match between Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu is thus the perfect way to get the expanded competition up and running and should be an extremely exciting match to watch.
“This is the perfect way to get our maiden campaign in the Varsity Shield going, with a derby against Fort Hare,” said WSU coach Sipho Metula.
“The guys are very excited, we are really looking forward to the match and we know it is going to be a fantastic atmosphere up in Alice.”
The last time these two sides met WSU edged a close match in last year’s Border Super League club competition and tonight’s game should be another tight affair, that should give the victor some much-needed momentum to head into the rest of the competition.
“We are not here just to make up the numbers, we are here to compete and win and our goal is to make the playoffs, so a win would be the perfect start,” admitted Metula.
Fort Hare will want to get their season off to a good start after a difficult season last year saw them end the Varsity Shield bottom of the table having won just one match.
They will want to make a much better fist of it this time around and a positive result against their closest rivals will be the perfect way to get them on the right track.
“The WSU-Fort Hare game is a massive derby and you can’t have a better match to get the season started with,” said Fort Hare director of rugby Elliot Fana.
“We have a very well drilled and strong team and the guys are looking forward to getting off to a good start.
“Last year we did not do so well, but I think our recruitment, led by head coach Lumumba Currie, has been superb and we have a quality team here that I expect to do extremely well and at the very least make the semifinals.”
The other local side in the mix, Rhodes, will be facing a daunting task in taking on Varsity Shield regulars Tshwane University of Technology in their opening match.
The atmosphere in Pretoria should be electrifying and Rhodes will want to make an early statement in the competition.
“We couldn’t have asked for a tougher opening match, traditionally all Northern teams are very physical and with us playing at this level for the first time it has all the ingredients to be a very tough game,” said Rhodes coach Qondakele Sompondo.
Regardless of what happens in the match, Rhodes has a clear plan of what they need to do this season and they will be aiming to reach the goals that the coach and team management have set out.
“We have targeted winning all of our home matches in the competition and if we can manage that we should be in the playoff mix and from there anything can happen,” explained Sompondo.
The other Varsity Shield match on show today will see an all-Cape derby as the University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology get this year’s competition under way with a televised match kicking off at 4.30pm.