The 2015 Varsity Cup got off to a cracking start in Bloemfontein on Monday evening with both the old campaigners, the UFS Shimlas, and the debutants, the CUT Ixias, in action.
At Shimla Park on the University’s campus, the Shimlas got their campaign underway against the ever difficult two-time champions, the University of Pretoria’s Tuks.
The visitors were the first to cross the whitewash when Riaan Britz opened the scoring in the 5th minute with a try after breaking though the Shimlas’ defence, however, it was a short-lived lead with Niell Jordaan crashing over the line for Shimlas to level matters five minutes later.
It was a matter of you-score, I-score going into the half-time break with both teams scoring twice in the opening stanza. However, Tuks converted both their tries for a 16-13 lead at the half-time break.
Ryan Nell dotted down for the men from Pretoria to get the scoreboard ticking in the second forty and the Shimlas’ fans grew quieter as Tuks took a 29-13 lead in the 54th minute through a long-distance Dan Kriel try.
Six minutes later the local support found their voice again when winger Maphutha Dolo closed the gap for Shimlas with a converted try in the 60th minute.
The home side found their second breath after replacement prop Conraad "Beertjie" van Vuuren crashed over the try line for the levelling score in the 65th minute. For the remaining 15 minutes the Shimlas pounded the Tuks line, but to no avail.
One could not help but to feel that had the men in the royal blue jerseys made better use of their lineouts, the outcome would have been more positive. The match ended deadlocked at 29-29 with both sides earning three points thanks to bonus point tries.
Former Junior World Championships winning captain, Wiaan Liebenberg who led Tuks, told Courant that he is happy with the result.
"This is the perfect start for us. Coming here and playing your first game away against a quality side like Shimlas is all the opposition we ask for. Things can only get better from here."
Flanker Gerhard Olivier, who scored the second Shimlas try and was named man of the match, said running rugby is part of their game plan.
"Everything is in the game plan, we play running rugby and we play tight. We are a smaller team, but we play with our hearts on our sleeves and for each other."
On the other side of town, the Varsity Shield’s most successful side to date, the Ixias took to the field in their first Cup game and it was tough baptism for fire for the new boys on the block. The University of Johannesburg started in fine style with Kobus Porter scoring twice to give the visitors an early 13-0 lead.
Ixias hooker, Anrich Bitzi, scored the Ixias’ first Cup try to give them a glimmer of hope at the first strategy break. However, from this point on, it was all UJ after taking a 26-5 leading into half-time.
Ixias stalwart, Dean Kouprihanoff, scored the side’s second and last try, however trailing 36-10 was a bridge too far for CUT.
In all the side from Johannesburg ran in eight tries to teach the Bloem boys a valuable lesson in Cup rugby with a 46-10 win.
Next week the Shimlas are away to UJ in Johannesburg, while the Ixias will look to regroup before tackling the NMMU Madibaz in Port Elizabeth.