UFH - Rugby - Vice Captain - Ryan Maree (FSC) (18)

University of Fort Hare vice-captain Ryan Maree has enjoyed some big moments in his two years with the Blues but a victory over the might of UP-Tuks tonight would rank among the biggest.

The 21-year-old centre begins his third FNB Varsity Shield campaign knowing full well that claiming the scalp of one of South Africa’s powerhouse sides at Alice’s Davidson Stadium would be remembered for decades.

Tuks, the 2022 Varsity Cup champions, were relegated to the second tier after suffering an unprecedented seven losses last season – a result that shocked the nation’s rugby community to its core.

However, as Maree pointed out on the eve of tonight’s clash, this would count for nothing as the men from Pretoria sought to reclaim their place among student rugby’s elite in the 2025 season.

“I wouldn’t worry about what happened to them last year; this is a new season,” he said.

“They are pretty good in every department. I’m not doubting our pack but they do have a very good pack.”

Maree said everyone in the camp had been pumped up since learning that their season-opener would be against Tuks.

The match will certainly be a baptism of fire for the freshmen making their Varsity Shield debut.

UFH - Rugby - Vice Captain - Ryan Maree (FSC) (18)

Midfield warrior Ryan Maree is relishing the chance to test his skills against UP-Tuks in Alice tonight. Photo: Full Stop Communications

Fort Hare have said goodbye to many of the stalwarts who contributed to their title-winning season in 2022, and it has now fallen on these rookies to deliver the goods.

Maree was impressed by what he had seen so far.

“The newcomers have done well. They suit our style of play and it almost feels like they’ve been here before.”

Quite a few of the debutants hailed from rural high schools around East London and growing up in that rugby environment had given them power and speed to burn, he said.

Fort Hare have prepared well for the competition, putting in the hard yards during the winter and preseason.

They had also worked on their mental strength, an aspect that will be crucial against Tuks.

Maree expected conditions to be humid with a bit of dew on the paddock. However, he did not believe the moisture would be too big a factor come kick-off time.

The midfielder expected every team in the competition to present a challenge, not only Tuks.

He and his charges would be up for them all, he said.

Tuks, meanwhile, have lost quite a few of their own players heading into their first-ever Varsity Shield season.

But Coach Dewey Swartbooi told the FNB Varsity Cup website that while the absence of the experienced players would be felt, it was a great opportunity for the new “Stripe Generation” to put up their hands.

“Playing in Varsity Shield will be tough and unknown to us, but the boys are up for the challenge and going to take it one game at a time,” he said.

“The preparations have been going well.”

The match starts at 7pm.