The competition that properly ushered club rugby into the professional era was returning to its roots. It was Covid-19’s doing. Uncompromising duels without glitz were the norm as the 2021 iteration of the Varsity Cup was played in a bio-bubble confined to the inner parameters of Pretoria. From 4 April to 21 May, the Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield tournaments are hosted in the shade of the jacaranda trees that adorn South Africa’s executive capital.
Covid-19 tests were conducted in a four-week period leading up to the tournament and teams were intermittently tested, separately, throughout the competition. Tukkies Stadium, Tukkies B field and Loftus Versfeld were the designated venues.
A tournament like none other
We’ve come to know the Varsity Cup as a student rugby competition where the elite rugby-playing universities compete against each other annually to determine the top dog in the country. Many a Springbok can trace their growth spurts back to the Varsity Cup.
Giants of the game like Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende and so many more held back unrelenting onslaughts to embed their names in rugby history. The Varsity Cup has produced 48 Springboks and 13 IRB World Cup Winners. This is a tournament like none other.
Springboks Lood de Jager and Akker van der Merwe both picked up their national colours after representing the NWU in the Varsity Cup, while there are too many Currie Cup and Super Rugby representatives to mention.
NWU Eagles ready to soar
Difficult times called for astute leadership and this is where the duo of captain Lincoln Daniels and coach André Pretorius combined verve with uncompromising endeavour to ensure that the NWU Eagles were as competitive as they were determined to succeed.
At the time of publication, the NWU played six games and won four. They occupied the fifth position on the overall log. After three players from Tukkies tested positive for the virus, the break between games was extended. The tournament will resume on 17 May and the final will take place on 31 May.
Gone was the pomp and circumstance of old. Conspicuous by their absence were the lights and crowds that once spurred athletes on to glory. The 2021 Varsity Cup was a spectacle stripped to its very bones. No adoring fans in pavilions, no media frenzy. This was rugby at its core.