A new season, a new head coach, a new look line up but the same atmosphere, the same amazing support and the same predictable result for Maties in the Varsity Cup.
Over the summer, legendary names of the Varsity Cup fraternity left Stellenbosch University and onto Super Rugby or Pro 14 leaving some cavernous voids to fill.
Edwill van der Merwe is the greatest try scorer in Varsity Cup rugby history, Skipper Ernst van Rhyn is making waves at the Stormers whilst Chris Massyn and 2019 Varsity Cup Player of the season Chris Smit, are plying their trade with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Fly half Jordan Chait is now also with the Sharks in Durban as the team that Hawies Fourie built was dramatically disbanded.
Fourie left a legacy that will be talked about for years when he joined the Cheetahs at the end of last season but Drikus Hancke seems to have simply picked up from where his predecessor left off.
Firstly, the more senior players have certainly stepped up to the plate and taken leadership roles within the team. Remu Malan is now in his sixth year of Varsity Cup and it was clear to see the difference that his experience brings now with decision making and quick thinking in and around the breakdown. His game management was of the highest order on Monday night.
Munier Hartzenberg not only scored a try that demonstrated his searing pace yet again but he also came into the line at any opportunity and gave direction to the outside backs. In my post-match interview, he stated that he is now helping the likes of Mike Movovana settle into the team on the flank that Van der Merwe once occupied.
If you thought that Movovana had big boots to fill then imagine how Reinhardt Fortuin and David Brits may have felt pulling on Jordan Chait and Chris Smit’s shirts from last season.
The midfield pairing are in the senior playing staff bracket now but they aren’t the utility players of previous years. They have starting responsibilities in prominent positions and they embraced them fully. The partnership between Chait and Smit was so key to Maties’ success last season and this one may be just as important.
HJ Luus continues as a try scoring machine hooker and his influence on this squad and the pack especially will be vital in the coming weeks. His ‘lead from the front’ attitude will have had Hancke purring from the side lines.
The backbone of Hancke’s team is solid and then we throw into the mix all the youthful exuberance around it.
Adriaan van der Bank started ahead of Anton du Toit at Full Back and collected 12 points in his Man of the Match performance. It was his first start for Maties at the Danie Craven Stadium and considering most of his kicks were from the touchline and the only one he missed hit the post, he had a pretty special debut including numerous assists in Maties’ 9 tries.
Last year’s Young Guns captain Marcel Theunissen started in the Number 8 jersey and again, showed no signs of being overawed on the big stage. Control at the base of the scrum, great link up play and a very sneaky quick tap and go try at the end rounded off his night nicely.
15, 800 was the official attendance announced over the speakers and boy could we hear every one of them on Monday night.
This competition gathers momentum every year through the group stages and into the knockouts but to start in the fashion that it did on Monday night is more than impressive.
TUKS game against NWU in Pretoria was also announced as a sell out before the match had even kicked off so it is clear that the interest in the competition is still growing and when a match like that produces 82 points and a change of the lead three times in as many minutes at the death, then you can see why the Rugby that Rocks is such compelling viewing.
Add in the music, fireworks and of course Pokkel diving around the DC, what else could you possibly be doing better on a Monday night than visiting a Varsity Cup match?
NOTHING IS THE ANSWER!
Main Image : Lourens Bester – Insta: @lourensbester_
Match Imagery: Kevin Sawyer via Varisty Cup: Insta: @kevinsawyer