There are different ways to measure the success of the Varsity Cup tournament. If one were to only measure it on the basis of how many players went on to play Provincial and National Rugby it would historically be a great success. Over 65 percent of the players who took part in the Currie Cup semi-finals in October of this year came through via the FNB Varsity Cup competition.
Of the 88 players selected in the four match day teams, 61 played in the competition since its inception in 2008. The Free State Cheetahs and Western Province had 16 players each (72 percent), the Golden Lions had 15 (68 percent) while the Blue Bulls has 14 players (63 percent).
22 of the players originated from UP-Tuks, 14 from Shimlas, 7 from, Maties, 8 from UCT-Ikey Tigers. 5 from UJ and 1 each from Pukke and the Madibaz. Three of the Varsity Shield sides, Wits, UWC and CUT also had one player in the match day teams.
Add to that, eight of the players who represented the Springboks at the World Cup are also alumni of the universities, although some of them did not play in the competition. Handré Pollard (University of Pretoria), Damian De Allende (University of Cape Town), Eben Etzebeth (University of Cape Town), Trevor Nyakane (Central University of Technology) , Lodewyk De Jager (North-West University) Coenie Oosthuizen (University of Free State), Siya Kolisi (University of Cape Town) and Rudy Paige (University of Johannesburg).
This representative success is expected to diminish as the new Varsity Cup rules come into effect. In the 2012 season, Varsity Cup and Shield sides were required to have 16 full-time students in their 23-man squads. In the 2013 season, Varsity Cup teams were required to have 18 full-time students in their 23-man squads. In addition, students needed to have passed at least 30% of their previous year's courses, and all players, even non-students, must have finished high school. From the 2014 season, Varsity Cup teams were required to have 20 full-time students in their 23-man squads. 2014 was the last year in which non-students were not allowed to play. There are additional rules being implemented which precludes first year students from playing so players will have to have passed their first year of studies at University to qualify to play etc.
Many young players who cut their rugby teeth at Varsity Cup level will testify to the fact that being on show early in the season, in an intensive race to the title of being the best university club in the land, was a springboard to their rugby careers.
Eight years of Varsity Cup has produced a constellation of professional rugby players, some of whom were on the biggest stage of all, the Rugby World Cup 2015. Others are regular members of provincial and Super Rugby squads, in South Africa, England and Australia. Fame and fortune has been their reward for all the hard work and effort which started in the off season before a year of Varsity Cup.
The Varsity Cup has changed somewhat, in the sense that the organizers have been compelled to look very carefully at the letter and spirit of eligibility of students to ensure that 'geen verneukery' takes place to boost squads with players whose status as 'bona fide' students can be brought into question. The spirit of the Varsity Cup is as important as providing a platform for young players to go on to bigger things in rugby, and life. It is imperative that the original concept of The Varsity Cup is not buried underneath egos and hubris from universities throughout our land.