Varsity Cup laden with former Boks
The tournament will once again feature the Top Eight university sides in the country – University of the Free State (Shimlas), North West University (Pukke), Stellenbosch University (Maties), University of Cape Town (Ikeys), University of Pretoria (Tuks), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Madibaz), University of Johannesburg and Central University of Technology (Ixias) – duking it out to claim the bragging rights.
It is also the final year of the two-year rotation and means that the team that ends on the wrong end of the table will have to fight for survival in the dreaded promotion/relegation match with the winners of the Varsity Shield competition.
Of the eight teams, four (Tuks, Madibaz, UJ and CUT) have retained their 2015 coaches while the rest (Maties, Shimlas, Ikeys and Pukke) have opted to bring in fresh faces to their coaching ranks.
Tauriq Ebrahim gives a brief introduction of who they are and what they have achieved in their playing and coaching careers.
Hendro Scholtz – Shimlas
Varsity Cup experience: None
Other experience: 2015 Shimlas assistant coach
The defending champions will have it all to do this season and prove their 2015 triumph was no flash in the pan. Under the guidance of Franco Smith, whose success led him to being handed the head coach position at the Free State Cheetahs, the team achieved the rare feat of being the only unbeaten side in the competition.
However, now that Smith has moved on to higher honours, his spot will be taken by former Springbok flank Hendro Scholtz. Scholtz is no stranger to the Varsity Cup competition, as he served as Smith's assistant coach in the successful 2015 campaign.
Scholtz spent the bulk of his playing days in the orange and white of the Free State before having brief stints with the Bulls, Cats, Agen and Rovigo prior to returning to the Cheetahs' fold from semi-retirement for the 2012 Currie Cup season.
This will be his first exploit as a head coach and will need to maintain their high standards, if they are to defend their title.
Jonathan Mokuena – Pukke
Varsity Cup experience: None
Other experience: None
Former Springbok Sevens captain Jonathan Mokuena takes over the reins from Robert du Preez, who has joined the Sharks as an assistant Super Rugby coach and head coach for the 2016 Currie Cup campaign.
In his playing days, Mokuena turned out for the Leopards and Griquas before heading north to join the Lions, and ultimately returning to the Kimberley-based union. The now 34-year-old former loose forward made his Sevens debut in 2005 and, in 2008, decided to focus on the 15-man format.
However, he returned to the Sevens fold in 2010 before hanging up his boots following the 2011 Currie Cup season. He will also be in charge of the Leopards 2016 Currie Cup First Division campaign.
Mokuena will be one of the first coaches of colour to be at the helm of a university during the Varsity Cup (excluding the Shield, hostel and junior competitions).
Pote Human – Tuks
Varsity Cup experience: 2014 (sixth), 2015 (semifinal)
Other experience: Blue Bulls (2005-06), Bulls forwards coach (2005-08), Griquas (2012-13)
Human has been at the helm since 2013 and his tenure got off to the perfect start when he guided them to the title that year, however, he has yet to reach those heights again – having led them to the semifinal stage in 2015.
Human coached the Blue Bulls from 2005 to 2006 as well as doing assistant coach duties for their Super Rugby campaigns from 2005 until 2008, under the guidance of former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
In 2011, he took over the head coach role at Griquas, taking them close to qualifying for the 2012 Currie Cup semifinals before parting ways and heading north.
Hanyani Shimange – Ikeys
Varsity Cup experience: None
Other experience: Ikeys' 2013/14 assistant coach
Another new face to the competition is former Springbok hooker, Hanyani Shimange, who takes over from Kevin Musikanth – who led them to the 2014 title, as well as a place in the semifinal stage of the 2015 competition.
Shimange first donned the green and gold in 1999 when he was selected into the Under-21 side, before moving to Durban and to make his Currie Cup debut for the Sharks in 2000. Two years later, he moved inland to the Cheetahs for a couple of years and was part of the 2003/04 Cats Super Rugby team.
The now 37-year-old, then moved back to the Cape to turn out for Western Province and the Stormers. He made is Springbok debut in 2004, coming on as a flank against Wales at Loftus Versfeld, and accumulated a total of nine international caps – all coming off the bench.
Shimange has been part of Ikeys' coaching setup since 2013 and becomes one of the first coaches of colour in the premier University competition.
Hawies Fourie – Maties
Varsity Cup experience: None
Other experience: Ceres (2001-2002), Boland (2002-2007), Free State Cheetahs (2007-2014), Griquas (2014-2015)
Former Griquas head coach and Cheetahs' Super Rugby assistant coach Hawies Fourie is another new face to the competition and takes over from former Springbok flyhalf Chris Rossouw, who remains part of the coaching staff.
Fourie will be tasked with getting the institution back to the glory days, which saw them lifting the trophy in the first three years (2008-2010) of the competition. Since then, they have finished as runners up on two occasions (2012 and 2013) and managed to reach the semifinals of the 2014 edition.
The former utility back began his playing career in Stellenbosch and represented Boland on a few occasions in 1994 and 1995, before retiring from the game and pursuing a career as a coach. He spent two years coaching Ceres from 2000 before being handed the head coach role at Boland until 2007.
During his time at Boland, he was also appointed as the Stormers' backline coach in 2006. The Cheetahs came knocking at his door and he joined the Bloemfontein-based side in 2007 as their backline coach, spending eight years in the Free State before being handed the head coach role at Griquas in 2014.
Werner Janse van Rensburg – UJ
Varsity Cup experience: 2014 (seventh), 2015 (sixth)
Other experience: UJ Under-19, Golden Lions Academy Week, Golden Lions Schools U19, Golden Lions Craven Week
The University of Johannesburg has kept the faith in Werner Janse van Rensburg for the third consecutive year and, if their trend continues, we should see them edging closer to the semifinal spots.
He started his coaching career at the tender age of 21 when he was in charge of the university's Under-19B side and also coached a number of other UJ sides, along with some representative age-group teams.
He served as the Golden Lions Academy Week coach in 2006 and 2007 before taking charge of the Golden Lions U19 Schools side in 2008 and 2009 and, eventually, serving as Golden Lions Craven Week coach from 2010 through to 2013.
David Maidza – Madibaz
Varsity Cup experience: 2014 (semifinal), 2015 (seventh)
Other experience: Border Bulldogs (2001, 2008-2009), Free State Cheetahs (2003-2007), EP Kings (2010-2013)
Maidza returns for his third Varsity Cup competition and will have to do something special to improve on their lowly seventh-place finish in 2015.
The former Zimbabwean international made his international debut in 1993 against an Arabian Gulf team in a 1995 World Cup qualifier and made a total of five appearances between 1993 and 1994. He moved to South Africa in 1996 where he represented Border, while he enjoyed a brief Super Rugby stint with the Sharks, as part of their 1999 sqaud.
He kicked off his coaching career in 2001 as a technical advisor to Border before taking up an assistant coach position with the Cheetahs from 2003 until 2007. He returned to Border in 2008 and became their head coach until 2009.
Maidza then joined the Eastern Province Kings in 2010 as an assistant backline coach before being handed the head coach role for their 2013 Vodacom Cup campaign before joining the Madibaz in 2014.
Andre 'Skillie' Bester – Ixias
Varsity Cup experience: 2015 (eighth)
Other experience: UFS-Kovsies (12 years), Free State Craven Week (2004-05), Wannaroo (2006-08), Varsity Shield (2014 winners)
Skillie's Ixias received a baptism of fire in their debut Varsity Cup season, losing all seven of their matches and failing to pick up a solitary point.
Bester made an immediate impact when he took over the reins in 2014 as he guided the to the Varsity Shield title, thus handing them to promotion to the premier Cup competition.
Prior to taking over the coaching duties, he joined the university as their manager in 2011 and witnessed them claim the Shield in 2011 and 2013, as well as finishing runners up in 2012.
By Tauriq Ebrahim