The 2018 FNB Varsity Cup kicks off in Pretoria today. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix

PRETORIA: Under the new leadership of head coach David Manuel and captain Denzel Hill, the University of Pretoria will kick-off the FNB Varsity Cup with high hopes of being able to successfully defend their title.

Tuks will start their campaign with a tricky encounter against former champions the University of the Free State Shimlas at the Tuks Rugby Stadium this afternoon and Manuel believes they have done enough in the pre-season to handle the pressure and expectation that comes with seeking back-to-back titles.

Even though many of the Varsity Cup coaches have been vocal in their protest against the Power Play that sees a team choose a player from the opposing team to sit out for three minutes, Manuel is confident that his players will adapt well to the law change.

“We achieved what we wanted to achieve as a squad and I’m happy with how the players performed especially as the guys got to test ourselves with the new Power Play,” said Manuel.

At the same time, Tuks will rely heavily on the experience of some of their senior players like Andrew Beerwinkel, Clyde Davids, Eduan Lubbe, Eli Snyman, Jan-Henning Campher and Johan Grobbelaar to have a successful campaign amongst a host of new faces that will look to make a name for themselves in the competition.

“Overall, we do have a very green squad in terms of experience but I feel that in the Varsity Cup one needs to adapt. Our experienced players will bring a level of calmness to the younger players.

“I’m excited for the campaign,” Manuel added.

In the other blockbuster of a fixture on the opening day of the competition will see a repeat of last year’s semi-final when the University of Johannesburg play host to the University of Stellenbosch.

While Maties might have emerged triumphant in the penultimate game of the competition last year, they will encounter a UJ side determined to change the course of history in their favour and finally ascend to their maiden title.

“We’ve learned harsh lessons in the last two years. We played well to get into the semis, but on the day we could not quite pull it off,” said UJ coach Werner Janse van Rensburg.

“You learn something all the time in this competition because you play in so many different circumstances. We’ll take it game by game, with our focus now on the Maties fixture.

“You can expect to see a classic Maties team of big forwards and strong backs, and they will run from everywhere. But we have our own standards and I firmly believe we will be competitive again.

“This is a competition that has always been open, any team can win on any given day.”

Fixtures:

Tuks v Shimlas, Tuks Stadium, 4.45pm (TV, SS1), UCT v Wits, UCT Rugby Field, 6.30pm, Pukke v CUT, Fanie du Toit Stadium, 6.30pm, UJ v Maties, UJ Stadium, 7pm (TV, SS1)

Cape Times