I must say, I was very impressed with the quality of rugby I saw during the first round of Varsity Cup matches on Monday. This competition is fresh, exciting and relevant in a way that the tired Vodacom Cup really struggles to be. My only gripe is that there isn’t a KZN team to support!
Looking at the teams that take part, I note with alarm that the Sharks are the only Super 14 franchise without a Varsity Cup team based in their region. The Bulls, Stormers and Lions have two each, while the Cheetahs have one. The remaining team, the NMMU Madibaz are no doubt going to form an important launchpad for the Southern Kings franchise, if it ever manages to get of the ground. It is interesting to note just how much of a draw card the Varsity Cup seems to be for aspiring players; they see it as a springboard from which they can launch their careers and gain more exposure, perhaps attracting the eye of an influential senior coach. I’m sure not too many guys view the Vodacom Cup in the same light.
One of the Ikeys coaches made an interesting comment before their game. He mentioned that players are choosing to study at Ikeys in the hope of playing in the Varsity Cup. We’ve seen a number of youngsters, some with promising futures, already leave the Sharks set up to join the likes of UJ and Pukke, on the grounds that they’d rather play Varsity Cup than sit on the fringes of the Sharks or Sharks XV squad. Having those teams available, playing in an exciting competition, gives a senior franchise coach a lot more options in terms of affording young players gametime and assessing their suitability for the big leagues.
The Sharks, in short, are missing out and while our Academy still does well to attract top talent, we will soon find that the lure of Varsity Cup exposure convinces the really top youngsters to look elsewhere – to Tukkies and the Bulls, or UJ and the Lions. Hell, I see that these days, the Stormers are even looking at a few Maties and Ikeys players, just for a change!
The solution is simple, to my mind. If NMMU and TUT can field teams based at universities that were not previously considered bastions of the game, then Martizburg Varsity can as well. The Sharks Academy already does a very good job ensuring that all its players are affiliated to a club for which he is expected to play every weekend. Why not handpick the brightest and best of those youngsters and allocate them to Martizburg Varsity? I’m not sure exactly how the participation agreement of the Varsity Cup has been drawn up, but it’s a successful format and I’m sure the sponsors and organisers would love to include more teams, provided they won’t lower the standard.
This is a no-brainer, Sharks. Get cracking and get our boys into the Varsity Cup, before we find that we don’t have them around any more.Tweet