Chester Williams is hoisted into the air by his players after Monday night's win. Photo: SASPA/Luigi Bennette
CAPE TOWN - The University of the Western Cape Sports Stadium. In a bygone era, it was not only the epicentre of UWC activities but a cauldron of Sacos non-racial sport, too.

It was where legends such as Shaun Vester, Nazeem Smith and Jantjie Marthinus lit up the athletics track in their black and gold vests.

Out on the rugby field, Saru legends Gary Boshoff and Irven October ensured visitors to the “Operation Room” - as UWC’s home ground is now known - were met with grunt up front, and equal finesse and skill at the back.

Even on the cricket field, when UWC was the only venue in the city that provided adequate facilities for day-night cricket that people of all communities could enjoy, there were specific highlights with Shukri Conrad lighting up the Bellville venue with an amazing 162 in a Grand Challenge club match one special evening.

Although this grand old lady of Sacos sport is starting to show its years, its legacy is firmly entrenched. But like every iconic stadium it needs new stories and fresh heroes to emerge.

The UWC football team celebrated a maiden Varsity Cup title in 2015 that rekindled the sort of spirit on the stands not heard in Bellville since the hey-days of the 1980s.

That energy returned on Monday evening when a packed house was treated to a sparkling display by the UWC rugby team, who despatched traditional rivals the University of Fort Hare 45-2 in the Varsity Shield final.

Although the victory was not enough to earn promotion to the prestigious Varsity Cup next year - this is only on offer every second season - the team still made significant strides under head coach and former World Cup-winning Springbok Chester Williams this past season.

With the support of former Springbok and Stormers scrumhalf Bolla Conradie, “the Bushies” proved to be a formidable outfit, losing just one league match in 2017 after being beaten by UCT in the promotion/relegation playoff match last season.

“It’s been magical ride but one that’s not over yet,” Williams said on Wednesday. “This is one part of a journey that will see us being a competitive side once we reach the Varsity Cup.

“We’re happy to win the Varsity Shield. We’re also not unhappy about not getting promotion this season because it will give us another season and more time to build a team that’s going to be really competitive in the Varsity Cup.

“We’ve shown we have the potential, but after another season together we can build something really special here at UWC. The guys, team management, everyone involved at UWC rugby knows about its proud history and what success will mean for the university overall.

“Everyone is committed to this goal, to put UWC back on the map, and make students proud of attending UWC and what it stands for and if we can help in any way with what we’re doing on the rugby field, then that’s a great start.”

Every successful rugby team possesses a brilliant halfback pairing.

The UWC “Class of 2017” is no different with captain and flyhalf Aiden Cupido leading the team with aplomb, while livewire scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies has been a regular wearer of the pink shorts handed to the “Player That Rocks”. Cupido is the son of Williams’ former Western Province teammate Wilfred Cupido and also a former WP Craven Week pivot.

However, it is Jantjies who is the real livewire. He scored two tries in the final, and created many more opportunities for his outside backs with his crisp passing and sniping breaks around the fringes of the scrum.

Williams believes the exposure to a quality No 9 like Conradie on a daily basis has improved Jantjies’ game tremendously.

“Both my coaches, Lionel Langenhoven (forwards coach) and Bolla (backline coach) have made a tremendous contribution this season. But there’s no doubt Bolla has been instrumental in getting our backline moving, empowering them in their decision-making,” Williams said.

“A guy like Herschel has no doubt developed after working with Bolla. He understands the youngsters and they have responded to him.”

Varsity Cup rugby has traditionally been the domain of strongholds such as the Maties (Stellenbosch University), Tukkies (University of Pretoria), UCT Ikeys and the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Williams hopes that his team’s Varsity Shield triumph will allow UWC to compete not only on the field, but also in the all-important recruitment process.

“That’s probably the toughest part of my job. Trying to get the best young players to come to UWC and also holding on to them once they are there,” said Williams.

“Every season our players are offered bursaries elsewhere, so hopefully by winning the Varsity Shield it will attract sponsors and investors wanting to get involved in UWC rugby (so we can) hold on (to) the talent we do have.”

Cape Argus