On Monday afternoon at FNB Stadium in Soweto, the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International trophy won’t be won or lost. But there is a trophy that will. And while everyone’s focus is fixed firmly on lifting the Varsity Cup silverware; for 80 minutes on Monday the focus will shift, as FNB UCT and FNB Madibaz play for something so much bigger than log points.
The two teams will play in honour of a talented young rugby player who left an even bigger void in the lives of those he touched, than he did on the rugby field. And that’s saying something.
Monte Taljaard arrived at UCT in 2006 from Port Elizabeth. The gifted young flanker and Grey PE star made an immediate impact on the field at UCT.
He captained the Under-21 side in 2007, before his call-up to the first team in the Varsity Cup a year later.
Coached by John Dobson, Taljaard was tipped to play a major role in the FNB UCT side of 2009 and showed promise of a professional career in rugby. Dobson went as far as labeling Taljaard ‘a once-in-a-generation player’. But tragically, Taljaard lost his life in a motorcar accident on 14 September 2008.
“Monte was not just a loss to UCT, he was also a loss to the Varsity Cup and the rugby-playing fraternity of South Africa,” said his then-coach John Dobson. “But when someone like Monte is taken away from you at such a young age, it tends to put 80 minutes of rugby into perspective for both players and coaches.
“Monte remains one of the most outstanding leaders and young men that I have ever met, let alone coached. We still miss him and the Monte Taljaard trophy must contribute to ensure that he is never forgotten and is a stark, brutal reminder to the players that they must seize every moment, for things can be taken away from you cruelly and quickly.”
Since his passing, honouring Taljaard and given his roots in PE and time representing UCT, FNB UCT and FNB Madibaz now play for the Monte Taljaard trophy in their annual fixture. A Monte Taljaard Bursary has also been established at UCT in Monte’s honour. It is awarded – on an annual basis – to a deserving UCT rugby-playing student.
In the history of the fixture, FNB UCT have won five of the seven matches, drawing once and only losing on one occasion. Not only have they lost the trophy just once; they have historically – and perhaps inspired by Taljaard’s memory – raised their game on the occasion.
In the first three fixtures (2009-2011), FNB UCT won all three matches, scoring a total of 150 points to FNB Madibaz’s 35. Two of those matches were away, in PE. FNB Madibaz’s only win came in 2012, in 2013 the teams drew and for the past two years, FNB UCT have won the contest.
It will be the first time that the trophy will be contested at a venue outside of Cape Town or PE, the match taking place at the iconic FNB Stadium on Monday afternoon. The grand 2010 Soccer World Cup Final stadium will be a fitting arena for a young man who seemed to be an immense presence on the field, but an even greater character off it.
Those 80 minutes played on Monday 21 March will pay tribute to a young leader, who had an abundance of talent, but something far superior to just ability. A man who made a tangible impact on the lives of those he came into contact with.
So no matter who lifts the Monte Taljaard trophy on Monday evening, we celebrate the life of a quite special young man. And that is the real victory.
2009 – FNB Ikey Tigers (36-17)
2010 – FNB Ikey Tigers (65-6)
2011 – FNB Ikey Tigers (49-12)
2012 – FNB Madibaz (23-21)
2013 – FNB Ikey Tigers and FNB Madibaz (5-5)
2014 – FNB Ikey Tigers (26-13)
2015 – FNB Ikey Tigers (40-13)