Staff Writer    Images: Facebook

Western Cape rugby fans will have to wait a little longer to get any chance of realizing their aspiration to see all four universities competing in the Varsity Cup – South Africa’s premier university rugby competition.

This comes after the Varsity Cup announced on Friday that no team will be promoted from the Varsity Shield to the Varsity Cup at the end of the 2022 season, which is set to kick-off in the next few weeks. Instead, two teams will be relegated from the Cup and one team will be chopped from the Shield at the end of the current two-year cycle based on the combined 2021-2022 logs. From the 2023 season, there will be eight teams in the Cup and eight in the Shield, Varsity Cup said in a statement.

This may be bad news for the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) who have been in fine form, winning both the 2019 and 2021 Varsity Shield titles. Both the Cup and Shield were suspended midway through the 2020 season due to Covid-19.

As things stand, the Cup has 10 teams with Cape’s Maties of Stellenbosch University, Ikeys Tigers of the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape among them. CPUT is the only Cape representative in the seven-team Shield.

Can CPUT maintain their dominance of the Shield and earn promotion to the Cup next season? Also, can all three WC varsities in the Cup keep their status and avoid the chop? That is a wish of many Cape rugby fans for all four varsities to play in the top league. But, as they say, time will tell.

Meanwhile, the Cup will return to the campuses around the country for the first time since the 2020 season, with each participant playing home and away matches and a limited number of fans allowed into the stadiums to cheer up their teams. Shield matches will be staged at a single venue each match day from Rounds 1-6, with the home teams hosting games in Round 7.

“The South African sporting community has endured a tough time over the past two years, so it’s great to see the FNB Varsity Cup returning to the participating universities across the nation,” said Xhanti-Lomzi Nesi, Varsity Cup Tournament Manager. “We’re particularly excited to have the fans back in the stadiums.

“We’re expecting a fiercely competitive tournament. Two teams will be relegated to the FNB Varsity Shield at the end of the 2022 season, so there is certainly a lot on the line. The FNB Varsity Cup has always prioritized innovation, pushing the boundaries and changing the lives of those who form part of the community,’ Nesi continued. 

The Varsity Cup tournament kicks off on 14 February and the Shield matches are set to commence on 4 March.

 Putting the spotlight on mental health 

This season, the FNB Varsity Cup’s Pink Shorts campaign will aim to raise awareness around mental health.

“A key narrative of the 15th edition of the FNB Varsity Cup is the mental health of the student athletes,” Nesi said. “Following a disruptive two-year period due to the pandemic, students have been forced to study remotely. It has taken a toll. We aim to raise awareness and acknowledge the challenges that these rugby players face on a daily basis.” 

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