In 2008, Nick Fenton-Wells watched the first-ever Varsity Cup Final from the jam-packed Danie Craven stands.
On Monday, the likeable and hard-working loose forward will captain FNB UCT against Stellenbosch in the 2010 FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International Final.
Having made his Varsity Cup debut last year, Fenton-Wells was one of UCT’s standout performers in 2009 – despite the 2008 losing finalists bowing out in the semifinals to FNB NWU-Pukke.
Taking over the Ikey’s captaincy from former school mate JJ Gagiano – who skippered UCT in 2008 and 2009 – seemed the next logical step for Fenton-Wells, the nephew of Nick Mallett. However, an injury very nearly scuppered his hopes of leading the Ikeys into the 2010 final against the dominant FNB Maties.
Fenton-Wells picked up a knee injury against the Pukke in Round Two; at first it seemed minor, but it ended up sidelining him right up until Round Seven – when he made his comeback off the bench against FNB Tuks in UCT’s final league match.
“It was the longest month of my life,” admitted Fenton-Wells to varsitycup.co.za. “I felt like I was letting people down by not being there, but I knew that I had to remain positive and just work hard (to get back).
“The plan was always to get me back out there against Tuks,” he added, “but there was just no way I could miss out on the business-end of this amazing tournament.
“My knee feels great. It held up nicely against Tuks, which gave me plenty of confidence, and it was even better after Monday [against Shimlas].”
The Ikeys skipper got some “good game time” against Tuks, as UCT won 38-24 to secure their third successive home semifinal, and he was also one of his side’s star performers against FNB Shimlas on Monday as the Ikeys progressed into a second Varsity Cup Final with a 27-21 semifinal triumph.
“I’m loving every second of being back… Leading the team out in the semifinals was an incredible moment for me, but I have no doubt that this coming Monday will be even better.
“Despite being injured, Dobbo [coach John Dobson] kept me with the squad as much as possible. I ‘ran’ water a few times during games, so that kind of helped me stay sane during my lay-off and also in touch with the team and their inner-workings.
“It was also awesome having Stu [Commins] captaining the side in my absence. He did a brilliant job leading the team and he also helped me loads on Monday against Shimlas,” added Nick.
“I’m very lucky to have someone like Stu to fall back on and also have the likes of JJ Gagiano, Ash Wells and Mark Goosen in the team, all of whom have been involved in three Varsity Cups and (some in) previous finals.”
UCT will travel to the Danie Craven Stadium as underdogs on Monday night, with the majority of the Maroon-clad crowd well up against them – a scenario which Fenton-Wells, albeit as a supporter and not a player, remembers well from the inaugural final at this very venue.
“I was at the final, in the crowd, in 2008,” remembered Fenton-Wells, “and I can tell you that I was a lot more nervous than I am now – at least, as a player, I can hopefully be out there making a difference.
“I was actually talking to a friend of mine the other day, he’s on the SLC at UCT, and it’s a very, very awkward thing being at the Danie Craven Stadium in your blue & white Ikeys stripes – either as a player or a fan – so we’re very grateful for any support that we’ll have out there.”
And looking ahead to Monday’s Varsity Cup Final, and his team’s actual chances of glory, Fenton-Wells told varsitycup.co.za: “We have nothing to lose; we’ve had to work very hard to make it here and that’s a massive achievement in itself.
“The Maties, on the other hand, have a lot of expectations as the home side and the defending champions.
“(So you see) there’s no point psyching ourselves out before Monday… there are some things we can control, and some things that we cannot. For us, it’s all about being part of an amazing occasion and, in the process, making our presence felt.
“We’ve fine-tuned a few things this week, and done some analysis, but we certainly won’t be changing anything for the final,” he added.
“At the end of the day, it’s a Maties-UCT match – which also happens to be a Varsity Cup Final – and I certainly won’t have to say much before kick-off… the guys will charging out of the changing-rooms themselves!”