Varsity Cup

Pretorius 'grateful' pandemic has given Varsity Cup chance to take stock

Andre Pretorius (Gallo Images)
Andre Pretorius (Gallo Images)

COVID-19's timing was particularly frustrating for Andre Pretorius.

The former Springbok flyhalf and now NWU-Pukke mentor was a day away from the toughest assignment of his fledgling coaching career - a home meeting with the all-conquering Maties - before the Varsity Cup was suspended in mid-March.

But the genial 41-year-old got over that disappointment quickly and now believes all stakeholders in the tournament should be "grateful" for the "positive things" that are emerging from this year's curtailed edition.

Most prominently, Pretorius argues there's now a valuable opportunity to properly take stock of the product's future.

"We've been afforded a platform to have a healthy debate over the direction the Varsity Cup is taking," he told Sport24.

"Personally, I love it. It's a tough competition with great players on show and some really gifted coaches trying to outwit each other. But I don't think we should be blind to the fact that some parties are questioning certain things about the tournament."

Some critics have pointed out that the Varsity Cup's penchant for innovative rule changes have become a distraction and doesn't effectively prepare the players for the gritty rigours of senior level rugby.

A gulf is also starting to emerge between powerhouses such as Maties, Tuks, Pukke and the rest of the field.

Pretorius though is a pragmatist when it comes to that debate.

"Look, with regards to the rules, you'll have different schools of thought. Over the past few years, the Varsity Cup has implemented rule changes that encourage increased ball-in-play. That might sound counter-productive because teams might now be keeping the ball more in hand, but that also leads to more mistakes. And more mistakes invariably translate into more points scored on the counter-attack," he said.

"Of course we need to continually explore ways to keep play exciting but balanced too. However, I believe the Varsity Cup remains popular because the fans who watch it do so with an open mind.

"We need to ask ourselves: Do I kick off my shoes on a Monday evening and relax in front of the TV because I expect certain rules to remain in place or do I just enjoy seeing talented young players expressing themselves on the field?"

One thing he's emphatic about is that the tournament's broader model - playing at a professional level while preparing for a future after the game - works well.

"It's fantastic. I have players who shine academically, who study hard and walk away with great degrees. They can become pharmacists or engineers. But they're also never late for a training session. These men balance their responsibilities and it prepares them so well for future success," said Pretorius.

"I still maintain that the Varsity Cup is a breeding ground for provincial and even national players. It's a brilliant safety net for schoolboy players who got lost in the system initially. They start playing for a residence, then become a young gun, graduate into the senior team and then get a professional contract.

"There are more than enough examples of that still happening. And that's good for the game in general."


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