The FNB Varsity Shield presented by Steinhoff International is in its seventh season since its inception in 2012. Four teams have secured their place in the semi-finals which takes place on Monday 27 March. For the first time in the second tier intervarsity rugby competition’s history, semi-finals will decide which teams play in the final.
In previous years, the two teams atop the Varsity Shield log at the end of the round robin stages would automatically qualify for the final. New kids on the block, FNB WSU, have qualified for the semi-finals while FNB UWC and FNB UKZN are in familiar territory as both sides have played in previous finals. FNB UFH round up the four teams in the semi-finals.
Every alternate year, the Varsity Shield second-placed side play against the second last team in the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International in a promotion-relegation match. No university will be relegated or promoted at the end of the 2017 season.
FNB UWC vs FNB WSU
The table-topping FNB UWC host newcomers FNB WSU at the UWC Sports Stadium in Bellville for a second time this season. The home side will have the psychological edge over their opponents following a 24-46 thrashing in East London just last week. Despite being docked points for fielding ineligible players, the FNB WSU All Blacks (as they are affectionately known) have made huge strides in their maiden Varsity Shield year.
The team, coached by Sipho Metula, recorded five straight victories and were subsequently docked the points from their opening two matches. Despite this setback the team from Buffalo City Stadium made it all the way to the Varsity Shield final, but will have to face the experienced FNB UWC side, who have now qualified for two finals since 2015. Chester Williams’ men will want to go one step further to secure their maiden Varsity Shield title after last year’s 39-2 thumping at the hands of FNB Wits.
FNB UFH vs FNB UKZN
Despite featuring in their first Varsity Shield play-off match after an impressive season, FNB UFH face the 2015 Varsity Shield champions FNB UKZN in Alice. UKZN Impi narrowly outsmarted Fort Hare 16-10 in Round Three of this year’s competition. These two sides have met six times previously with the Pietermaritzburg-based side dominating the stats with four wins to Fort Hare’s two. History also favours the visitors as they have only lost once at this venue, back in Round One of the 2013 edition, when the Davidson Stadium side edged FNB UKZN 19-7.
Both semi-final matches promise to be entertaining and close affairs. Fort Hare will head into their match against FNB UKZN with a heap of confidence after a very successful 2017 season, but it is their opponents that have the mental edge heading into this one. The Peter Booysen Sports Park side will be looking to repeat their 24-29 final victory against FNB Wits when they travel to the heart of the Eastern Cape on Monday.
By Lyndon Julius