Can anyone stop Maties from making it four from four? The short answer is probably not. After going unbeaten through the Varsity Cup last year, winning nine from nine, the Maties side as expected has lost a lot of its top players to big rugby unions such as JJ Engelbrecht, who ended up playing for the Stormers in the Super 14. With only a handful of players remaining from last year’s team that ran out in the final, many people are expecting Maties to struggle to defend their title but when you have the biggest rugby club in South Africa, with over 1300 registered players, filling the gaps shouldn’t be a challenge for a rugby club that draws the biggest talent to it.

The first team we are going to look at is Ikeys. They have been able to retain most of their team and were runners-up in last year’s Varsity Cup. They are still under the leadership of inspirational flank, Nick Fenton-Wells, who has been described as being a brave and skilful player by his management team. He will have to lead the challenge from the front for Ikeys. A player to watch out for is definitely Therlow Pietersen at fullback with his explosive pace and good positional play. My prediction: Runners-up

Now to Maties, as said after losing a lot of players to provincial teams, Maties will have to find players. They have done this in the form of Earl Rose’s younger brother Jody starting the first game ahead of prolific fly-half from last year, Andre Kemp. Most of the Maties supporters will be hoping he’s not a complete and utter rugby failure like his brother who at times was barely recognizable with all the protective gear he used. This year Maties team is led by dynamic hooker Callie Visagie. Maties will welcome back Donald Stevens, who in 2009 was player of the tournament. He will be a key to their success at scrumhalf along with speedster Tythan Adams. The depth of the Maties team is visible with three of the starting XV for the 2010 final starting on the bench. My prediction: Winners

NMMU is a team that will struggle again. The depth of squad will be tested again and there just isn’t any depth. Captained by eighth-man, Jaco Swanepoel, who is a strong and at times an ill disciplined man who is going to have to lead from the front and give guidance to a young team looking to try and turn the corner. A key player to look for is definitely Mayibuye Ndwandwa signed from Shimlas. My prediction: Wooden spoon

NWU-Pukke, one of last year’s semi-finalist and another team that was steamrolled by Maties, will be expecting to challenge for this year’s title. Pukke always turn up with a competitive team and this year is no different with their captain, Ligtoring Landman, having already been involved in the Currie Cup with the Leopards. Key player to watch will be ex-Maties scrumhalf Johan Laker who is replacing the influential Andries Mahoney. My prediction: semi-finalists

Now to Bloem where another of last year’s semi-finalists reside. Shimlas will be looking to make the semis again and they seem to be making an effort by making a few big signings. This team will be led by new eighth man, Willie Britz, who has the job of filling Boom Prinsloo’s boots which will be difficult but a challenge that Britz should be up to. There is only one key player and its ex-Matie centre Charl Weideman who will definitely add to the Shimlas already good backline. My prediction: might just miss out on semis

Tuks who will have the influence of Heineke Meyer, as a consultant, are looking to turn over a new leaf after last year’s poor Varsity Cup campaign. They have started off by signing a few new players including two ex-Matie players and an ex-Ikeys player. They will be captained by another new signing Wesley Dunlop a former College Rovers player. Dunlop who will slot in at fly half will also have to run the show for Tuks if they want to challenge for the trophy. My prediction: will challenge for a knockout spot.

TUT who will be fighting NMMU for the wooden spoon this year will struggle again to challenge the big teams. Led by Wikus Botes ,a powerful eighth man, will be looking to flyhalf Ruan Boshoff to provide the spark to try lead TUT towards more victories this year. My prediction: fighting NMMU for 7th spot on the log

Finally, UJ. They are quite an unknown team as they can always spring a surprise or two and boast some very good players. UJ will be looking to build on their 5th place finish and push for a semi-final spot. This team is led by strong flanker Justin Wheeler who has played for the Lions at Currie Cup level. He will definitely be a key player along with fullback Aubrey McDonald and last year’s top try scorer Lolo Waka. My prediction: challenging the big boys for a semi-final spot

Now to the first round of games, it all starts with Shimlas hosting Ikeys at 5pm followed by three games all kicking off at 7pm in the form of Maties versus Pukke, TUT versus UJ and finally NMMU hosting Tuks.

My predictions for round 1:

Shimlas vs. Ikeys

Shimlas will, in the end, lose out to Ikeys but a shock might be on the cards so don’t be surprised if Shimlas pull off a victory. Ikeys to win by 3 points.

Maties vs. Pukke

This will be a good game but after Maties humiliated Pukke last year in Stellenbosch in the semi-final, Pukke may have a few skeletons in the closet. Maties to win by 13 points.

TUT vs. UJ

UJ should win this quite comfortably. I don’t give TUT too much of chance. UJ by 20 points.

NMMU vs. TUKS

Tuks should take the honours in this game but NMMU under a new coach might be a changed team. Tuks to win by 20 points.

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