Varsity Shield: The final countdown

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 10:57
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Varsity Shield has played second fiddle to the main Cup competition but there is a tight race to the semi-finals with the competition entering its final round-robin fixture. Tauriq Ebrahim looks at the permutations.

The 2017 edition of the competition was expanded to seven teams, with the addition of Walter Sisulu University, CPUT and Rhodes University.

With the expansion, came extra matches and - for the first time - semi-finals. Previously, the competition concluded with a Final between the top two sides immediately after the round robin matches.

Just one side, University of Fort Hare, has concluded their six matches and will have no impact on the outcome of the top four as they have already secured their play-off spot. It is only a matter of whether or not they host a semi-final.

The top two teams will host a semi-final on March 27 while the highest-placed winner of those matches will host the Final on April 10.

All the permutations!

UWC (currently first)

Best finish - first
Worst finish - first

UWC head into their final round-robin match against WSU with the knowledge that they cannot be caught at the top of the table, which could allow them to rest key players - should they wish to do so.

UWC is currently on 22 points and with second-placed UFH on 20 points and not involved in the final round matches, they are guaranteed a home semi-final and potential home Final, should they win their play-off match. A defeat for the Cape side would make no difference to their overall log position.

UWC could play either CPUT, WSU, UKZN or TUT in their semi-final at the UWC Stadium.

Fort Hare (currently second)

Best finish - second
Worst finish - third

Fort Hare has concluded their matches and are on 22 points but will have to rely on other results going their way to seal a home semi-final. The only team that can overtake them is CPUT.

Should the Cape-side beat TUT in Wellington by at least three points, UFH will have to travel to Wellington for their semifinal encounter.

The only way UFH will hold onto second spot is if CPUT fails to win by a bonus point or fails to win by at least three points.

In the best case scenario for UFH, they will play either CPUT or WSU in the semifinal in Alice.

CPUT (currently third)

Best finish - second
Worst finish - fourth

CPUT has their destiny in their own hands in their debut season and could ensure an all Western Cape hosted semi-final stage of the competition.

The equation is simple, they will need to beat TUT by either a bonus point or at least three points to secure a home semi-final.

Should they fail to claim the victory, they will remain in the semi-finals as the lowest position they can finish is fourth. For that to happen, WSU would need to beat UWC and CPUT would not gain any points from their match. Another scenario would see WSU picking up a bonus-point victory and CPUT picking up no less than two points from their match against TUT.

CPUT would play either UFH in Alice or Wellington - or UWC at the UWC Stadium.

WSU (currently fourth)

Best finish - third
Worst finish - sixth

WSU were hit with a 10-point deduction for breaching the tournament's rule, which stifled their unbeaten run in the competition. They looked set to race to the top of the standings but are now fighting to hold onto a semi-final spot.

They could have an easy path to the play-offs should UWC field an under-strength team. WSU can finish as high as third on the table should they beat UWC and CPUT does not pick up any points in their match.

However, should they lose to UWC and UKZN wins or TUT wins with a bonus point, that would see them drop as low as sixth on the log.

In a best case outcome for the Mthatha side, they would either play UWC at the UWC Stadium or UFH in Alice.

UKZN-Impi (currently fifth)

Best finish - fourth
Worst finish - sixth

UKZN-Impi can sneak into the semi-finals if they are able to bag a bonus-point victory over Rhodes on the condition that WSU does not pick up any points in their match against UWC. Should WSU pick up any points, UKZN will fall just short of the semi-finals.

If the result goes the other way, i.e. UKZN loses, they could drop to sixth place should TUT win their match against CPUT. Should things fall in place for the Durban students, they will play UWC at the UWC Stadium in the semi-finals.

TUT (currently sixth)

Best finish - fourth
Worst finish - sixth

TUT's chances of reaching the semi-finals are minute but a chance is a chance nevertheless. The equation is simple - they will need to beat CPUT with a bonus point while relying on WSU and UKZN losing their respective encounters.

Should things not go their way, their worst spot to finish will be sixth. If by some miracle, they sneak into the semi-finals, they will play UWC at the UWC Stadium.

Rhodes (currently seventh)

Best finish - seventh
Worst finish - seventh

While Rhodes cannot finish higher than last place, they will play a role in UKZN's future in the competition. If Rhodes are able to bag their first and only victory of the competition, they would end UKZN's hopes of reaching the semi-finals.

A defeat would see them remain winless in their debut season.

By Tauriq Ebrahim

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