05 April 2023 | Story Jóhann Thormählen | Photo ASEM Engage, Luigi Bennett.
The Shimlas scrumhalf Jandré (Smiley) Nel was one of the stars against the Maties. He scored the first of six tries in the last Varsity Cup league match in Stelllenbosch, which the University of the Free State won 44 – 12.

The Shimlas had to do it the hard way, as they have not played many home games this year, but they cannot wait to entertain their loyal supporters in a Varsity Cup semi-final.

Thabang Mahlasi, the University of the Free State (UFS) rugby captain, says his side feeds off the energy of the home faithful and is looking forward to getting that boost on Monday (10 April 2023 at 16:30) against the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The Shimla fans came out in numbers earlier in 2023, and now it is their chance to reward their team for securing a second consecutive semi-final on Shimla Park.

The UFS reached the top four after claiming a historic win in Stellenbosch on Monday (3 April 2023). Their 44-12 victory was the first time a Shimla side had beaten Stellenbosch University (SU) in its own backyard in the Varsity Cup.

In a tightly contested tournament, the Shimlas finished second with 25 points on the log, while UCT (Ikeys) were third with 22 points. The North-West University (NWU) Eagles and SU (Maties) play in the other semi-final in Potchefstroom.

Message to UFS fans

“We are very happy about being back in the top four, especially securing a home semi-final. It will be lovely playing in front of our faithful,” Mahlasi says.

And the flanker encourages the UFS supporters to back their team again.

We are very happy about being back in the top four, especially securing a home semi-final. It will be lovely playing in front of our faithful. – Thabang Mahlasi
Against the Central University of Technology, a lot of the students were already on recess, but the turnout was insane. It was the first time I saw Shimla Park so full in all my time as a Kovsie student.”

“My message to the supporters is that we feed off their energy and if they are there, we know we can play an expansive brand of rugby.”

Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, congratulated the Shimlas on reaching the semi-final.

“We are very proud of the Shimlas for an excellent season so far. We look forward to hosting the semi-final and encourage all the UFS fans to come out and fill Shimla Park.”

Tough road to semi-final

The road to the knockout rounds was tougher this year, as the Shimlas only played three home games.

And they faced some of the traditionally stronger teams – NWU, Ikeys, the University of Pretoria, and Maties – away from home. Three of them, the NWU, UCT and SU, reached the top four.

According to Mahlasi, his team had to make sure it wins all its home games.

“Winning your home games not only gives you confidence, but it also gives you the points you need if it does happen that you drop points when you are playing away.”

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