Third time could be UWC's charm
VARSITY SHIELD SPOTLIGHT: Five coaches, whose teams did not make the Varsity Shield Final, gave their predictions as to who will take the Varsity Shield title this year. Leezil Hendricks reports.
UWC has already appeared in two previous Finals but lost out to CUT in 2013 and to Wits in 2016, respectively.
Thus, heading to their third Final, the Cape Town side will be eager to lay the ghost of the past to rest.
After a marvellous 2017 Varsity Shield season, many would automatically bet on UWC to walk away outright winners; they ended the round-robin phases on top of the log and recorded a 50-26 victory against WSU in the semifinals.
Furthermore, giving that it is UFH first-ever appearance in the Final, there is no reason not to hand the title to Chester Williams' troops.
On the contrary, two Varsity Shield coaches have bravely placed their bets on the underdogs UFH.
Williams' neighbour and CPUT head coach Elias Solomon believes that Fort Hare's narrow 32-31 win against UWC in Round Two and their ability to adapt are proof that the visitors are the better side.
"I would have to put my money on Fort Hare," Solomon told rugby365.com.
"The performance against UWC earlier this season proved that they can steal it. Fort Hare have a monstrous scrum and they also have the skill to slow down the ball with their pick-up and drive type of rugby.
"They can adapt to any situation - whereas UWC just take it wide and uses speed - Fort Hare use both strength and speed to attack."
Sharing Solomon's sentiments - and showing more loyalty towards the Eastern Cape - is WSU head coach Sipho Metula.
"Fort Hare is going to win, I have to stay loyal to the Eastern Cape brand," Metula said humorously.
"When you watch their previous game against UWC, you could see they were just a little better.
"Inexperience will count against them but I think they are heading down to Cape Town with the right attitude… and that is all that matters."
UKZN-Impi coach Donald Ngwenya has backed UWC to win the Final, despite his side's massive 8-45 defeat against UFH in the semifinals.
Nqwenya feels that the difference between the sides will be UWC flyhalf Aidynn Cupido.
"UWC have a good balance between the forwards and the backs. Furthermore, their flyhalf [Cupido] will prove to be the difference, he dictates the game very well.
"I am not reading too much in the previous UFH’s win earlier in the season. UWC are just more compact, and have more structures in place to deal with Fort Hare's pack," Nqwenya said.
TUT head coach Jan Smit echoed Nqwenya, stating that UWC's structures will deliver the results.
"UWC are better organised in terms of set-plays, line-out and scrums. I don’t think Fort Hare’s pack will pose any threat.
"When you play the likes of Fort Hare, you need to be structured and UWC are certainly that," Smit said.
Rhodes coach Qondakele Sompondo had trouble selecting his favourite but in the end, his heart lost out as he predicted a UWC win.
"My heart says Fort Hare but my mind says UWC.
"It is going to be closely contested but UWC will win in the end. They have been consistent throughout the season. They are a clinical side and even against Fort Hare they were leading at half-time.
"I think being at home will pull them through. They are very effective in their execution and have a great balance between the youthful backline and experienced forwards.
"I have been very impressed by Fort Hare. The fact that they are at the beginning of the new cycle and have reached the Finals with mostly first-year students...it just showed what they are capable of," he added.
The game will take place at the UWC Sports Stadium in Cape Town on Monday, April 10.
By Leezil Hendricks