Varsity Cup champions Tuks will return to KZN for the first time in 21 years when they play a festival match next month against SA's top non-university club, College Rovers.
The Champions' Challenge is an initiative of KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union president Graham MacKenzie and has the backing of SARU as well as the KZN and Blue Bulls Rugby Unions. The match takes place on Friday 22 June at Mr Price Kings Park (kick-off 17h00), as the curtain-raiser to the 'Barney's Army' charity match between the Sharks and a John Smit World XV.
The last time the Pretoria students played in Durban was during the 1991 National Club Championships.
“A match between the Varsity Cup champions and the country's best so-called 'open' club is like an unofficial heavyweight title bout and it's a game which many people have been calling for,” said SARU CEO Jurie Roux. “We fully support this initiative to promote club rugby because providing non-university clubs in particular with increased exposure and better competitive platforms is one of SARU's priorities.
“We have been working closely behind the scenes with provinces and clubs across the country over the past year to chart a way forward,” added Roux. “This year's National Club Championships in Rustenburg will feature non-university clubs only and is the first step along that path. We look forward to making further announcements later this year.”
College Rovers won the 2010 Club Champs and have played in three finals and two semifinals since 2006. They have won 64 out of 67 matches over the past four seasons, including a record 56-match unbeaten run in KZN league and cup tournaments.
Tuks won their first-ever Varsity Cup earlier this year fielding a number of ex-Rovers players, including Wesley Dunlop, the player of the tournament, and Jerome Pretorius, who was man of the match in the final against Maties. Tuks lost to UCT in last year's Varsity Cup final and are currently unbeaten in the Blue Bulls' Carlton League, with seven wins. They are also the reigning Carlton champions for the last two years.
Tuks president and former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen said he hoped the match would help shine the spotlight on clubs. “Club rugby was the foundation on which SA rugby's success was built over the years but it's suffered since professionalism,” said Claassen, who also played for Tuks, Marmande (France), Natal University and Durban Collegians. “I've always been a very staunch believer in club rugby. The Varsity Cup has given varsity club players a second chance. We now need to help turn the ship around for 'open' clubs, which is why we had no hesitation in accepting Rovers' invitation.”
MacKenzie said it would be a privilege for KZN fans to see Tuks in action. “It's fantastic for us to get a small taste of the Varsity Cup by hosting the champions in our backyard, and I would like to thank SARU and the SA Rugby Legends for helping us make this happen,” he said. “There are no Vodacom Super Rugby games that weekend so we encourage fans attending the Sharks game to arrive a little earlier for a rare chance to see SA's top two clubs go head to head.”
College Rovers chairman Kevin Carolan agreed. “As a leading club you always want to test yourself against the best and there's no bigger challenge in club rugby these days than playing against a full-strength Varsity Cup champion team like Tuks,” he said.