The 2014 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International kicks off on Monday, giving fans their first taste of the new double referee system.
With the new prop jerseys and the 'Free Catch' rule enjoying successful debuts in the opening round of Varsity Shield action last week; all eyes will be on the innovation of having two whistlemen on the pitch in the Varsity Cup this season.
Aside from the new law innovations five of the eight teams are being guided by new coaches this season, giving the tournament an even 'fresher' feel this year.
There are some mouth-watering matches lined up to get the competition underway, including replays of both last year's semifinals, so expect some hard-hitting action from the outset as the teams seek to stamp their authority early on.
Defending champions FNB UP-Tuks will square up to local rivals FNB UJ in the first match to be televised live on Supersport One, and although there are few survivors from the team that beat FNB Maties in the final last year new coach Pote Human has named a team brimming with talent.
Human's side features five players from last year's Junior Springbok team that finished third in the Junior World Championship in France, and all of the new faces will be desperate to make a fast start under new captain and former Matie Reniel Hugo as they look to make it a hat-trick of titles this year.
They host a similarly revamped UJ side that will be out to make a big statement at the Tuks Stadium in their first match under new coach Werner Janse van Rensburg and his former Springbok assistants Ian Macdonald and Gcobani Bobo.
The second televised match (live on Supersport One at 19.00) will be something of a grudge match between Maties and the FNB NMMU Madibaz in Port Elizabeth.
Maties got away with a narrow 16-15 victory in the semifinal clash between the sides in Stellenbosch last year, so the Madibaz will be seeking revenge in front of their home fans under new coach David Maidza.
Maties’ defeat to UP-Tuks in their home final last year was their only loss the entire season, so expect them to be as ruthless as ever as they hunt for their fourth Varsity Cup title.
Down in Cape Town the FNB UCT Ikey Tigers host FNB NWU-Pukke on the Green Mile. New Ikeys coach Kevin Musikanth’s task will be to revive the fortunes of the 2011 champions after ending in seventh place for the last two years, but he has a tough first assignment on his hands against the team from Potchefstroom.
Former Springbok scrumhalf Robert du Preez has taken over as NWU-Pukke coach after a successful stint with Durban club side College Rovers, and his team will be hungry to prove a point after narrowly failing to qualify for the play-offs last year.
In Bloemfontein the FNB UFS-Shimlas get their campaign underway against last year’s Wooden Spoonists FNB Wits who will have their work cut out for them after losing a number of players who failed to meet the academic requirements.
Wits did not manage to win a single game in their debut Varsity Cup season last year after being promoted from the Varsity Shield, and they look to be up against it once more against a settled Shimlas side which boasts the likes of Currie Cup stars Oupa Mohoje and Gouws Prinsloo.
The Varsity Shield enters the second round on Monday after an opening round last week that saw victories for both last year’s finalists – FNB CUT and FNB UWC.
Former All Black coach John Mitchell’s FNB UKZN Impi were impressive in their narrow defeat to defending champions CUT in Bloemfontein last week, and they will be out to follow that up with a victory over the FNB Fort Hare Blues in their first home game at the Howard College campus in Durban.
Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers’ UWC team came away with a convincing victory over Fort Hare in Alice last week, so expectations will be high in Bellville when they face the FNB TUT Vikings in their first home game of the season.
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