FNB VARSITY CUP: Clash of Titans ends in stalemate

Nothing could separate the Boys in Blue and Ikeys in an erratic varsity cup battle.

Wits University clashed with the University of Cape Town (UCT) in the Varsity Cup on March 18, 2024, with the game eventually ending in a nail-biting 33-33 draw.  

The visitors came into the game as favourites on the back of two successive victories against the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Central University of Technology (CUT).  

Wits on the other hand headed into the encounter seeking redemption on the heels of a two-game losing streak, the most recent being a 51-22 away loss to the North-West University (NWU) Eagles.  

A second minute penalty and three tries saw UCT go into the half-time break with a 10-28 lead over the home side.  

However, Wits flew out the traps in the second half, scoring two tries within the first five minutes. One courtesy of fullback, Setshaba Mokoena, who ripped through the UCT defence before he chipped, then chased the ball to score a dazzling solo effort. 

Wits and UCT engaged in a tight battle at Wits Rugby Stadium. Photo: Kabir Jugram

This dizzying spell from the home side reduced the halftime deficit to two points, but only for a matter of minutes as a try by Mhleli Khuzwayo extended the buffer for the away side.  

The scoreboard was 26-33 to the Ikeys with ten minutes left on the clock, setting the stage for a nervy finale. But the Wits crowd remained at full volume, and their spirit was duly rewarded when Wits prop, Ronan Dutton scrambled over the goal line in the final minute of the game. After a successful conversion, the game ended in a 33-33 draw.   

Debutant Wits flanker, Kevin Kakoma said the match was, “Absolutely exhilarating! [I] had a blast out there. It was tough, obviously, they kept coming and never really died down, but it was a good push.” He said the crowd was a highlight, “I’m truly thankful for everyone coming out and just giving out support. I really felt that I was at home here”. 

UCT prop John Okonkwo said, “We brought the energy, we brought the effort. Kudos to Wits, they really put us on our toes today, especially in the second half. I think a draw justifies the game and how it actually played out.” 

Wits is now fifth on the Varsity Cup log with two games remaining. Their next clash is against the UJ at the UJ Stadium on March 25, 2024.   

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits and UCT players compete for a line-out. Photo: Kabir Jugram

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Wits rowing club makes a splash 

The Wits University’s rowing club has their sights set on a strong end to the 2023 season. 

The Wits Rowing club has made it to the fifth out of 10 positions at the University Sports South Africa rowing sprint championships at Mis Verstand dam, in Cape Town this past weekend.  

Wits rowing chairperson Malose Makwea and Jason Westman won gold in the men’s lightweight pair category, in a time of 3 mins and 36 secs. The lightweight category allows for each contestant to weigh 70kgs, and there is no person steering (coxswain). The pair defeated the University of Pretoria, which was trailing behind by just six seconds, along with three other teams.

The two also came second in the men’s lightweight double, which does not consider the participant’s weight.

Unfortunately, the women’s team was not able to get any medals in this competition, however, their captain Amy Cooper said that “everyone gained important experience, especially those new to racing.” Meanwhile, Makwea said: “the team spirit is very high, and people want to do better, which is good.” 

Wits Sport rowing officer Tebogo Rabothata said that he is happy with the consistency of the club and he is hoping for podium finishes at the end of the year. “We really need to up our game [going forward] to finish top two or three.” He added by saying that as training increases, so will the depth of the club. 

The team at Wits is predominantly made up by those who are new to the sport. This is referred to as ‘novice rowers’, which consists of rowers who have less than one year of rowing experience.  

Deborah Cronje, who steers the boat describes rowing for the club as extremely fulfilling, with the team consistently developing. “We are largely a novice team, with [the club] winning the development award at the previous boat race,” said Cronje. 

Members that the Wits Vuvuzela spoke to added that it is the culture of the Wits rowing that separates it from other clubs and contributes to the rower’s growth. “Unlike high school, or other university rowing environments, we focus on enjoying the sport,” said men’s captain Troy van der Westhuysen, adding that “with [enjoying the sport] comes growth.”   

Across the board, those involved with the club are looking to recruit more Witsies to row, regardless of experience level.  

Currently the club is busy with preparations ahead of the Gauteng and South African Championships, which will be taking place this month.  

Gauteng championships will take place on the 14th – 15th, whilst the South African Championships will take place on April 28th to the 29th at Roodeplaat dam. From the 7th to the 12th of September, the club will also take part in Boat Racing in Port Alfred, Eastern Cape. The club is hoping to send two men’s and two women’s teams to these competitions. 

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The Wits Rowing club’s ladies team on the water at USSA sprints. Photo: Wits Rowing

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Wits Tennis serves up ace tournament 

The university’s first-team tennis players came out on top in the intra-Wits club championship. 

First-team player Loyiso Kole captured his second intra-Wits men’s singles title after defeating teammate Ciaran Swartz 6 –3, 7 –5. His first was in 2021. 

With nine total breaks-of-serve between the two, Swartz managed to save three match points, however, Kole converted the fourth with his signature serve-and-volley play. “I could place my volleys well today,” said Kole. “It got to a point where I really counted on them.” 

Another first-team player, Justine du-Pont, took the women’s singles title after winning all three of her matches in the round-robin format (everyone plays everyone).  Du-Pont captured her second title of the day in the women’s doubles, with teammate Jesse Platt, after defeating Joanne Joseph and Isabella Weber, 6 – 0, 6 – 0. 

Women’s singles and doubles champion du-Pont dropped only six games in her four matches. “My forehands and serves were really solid.” she said. 

In total, three competitions were run over the weekend of April 1 and 2 by the Wits Tennis Club. Participants consisted of 10 prospective and current first team players. There were several withdrawals of first-team players before the tournament, resulting in smaller draws and cancelled men’s and mixed-doubles matches. 

Each match was best of three sets, with the third set being a 10-point tiebreaker. The men’s singles ran as a knockout, with a back draw (loser plays loser). Seven men entered the tournament – with three consecutive wins needed to claim the title.  

The men’s final between the two first-team players brought in spectators. Second-year BA student Neo Matutoane described the match as “super exciting”.  

Although happy with their overall performance, first-team players indicated that there was room for improvement throughout the course of this year. “We (the team) are going to work very hard this year,” said Kole. Swartz and du-Pont echoed similar sentiments. “We all want to and need to improve,” said Swartz, and Du-Pont added that “There is a lot of hard work ahead of us.” 

The tournament is aimed at fundraising ahead of the club’s first appearance at the University Sport South Africa’s (USSA’s) A section in six years, after their performance in USSA’s B division in December 2022, hosted by North-West University in Potchefstroom. This year’s event will be hosted at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape.  

Head coach Sylvester Zungu, who joined the club in 2020, aims to get Wits to be considered as one of the top tennis universities in the country. “I am ambitious,” said Zungu. “I want [the club] to go to USSA and bring back silverware. The university is known for being the best in academics – it is time for it to be the same for tennis.”  

Wits Tennis chairperson Connel Manhica said that the club was planning to organise friendly fixtures against the first teams of other universities in the USSA A section – particularly the University of Pretoria and North-West University in Potchefstroom. “This is aimed at getting match experience against strong teams,” said Manhica. 

  • Ciaran Swartz in his service motion. Photo: Seth Thorne

FEATURED: Ciaran Swartz lunges for a return of serve in the men’s final. Photo: Seth Thorne

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