CAPE TOWN – Pukke versus Maties. That Varsity Cup final on April 16 should be just as good in reality as it sounds on paper.
Before two very high-scoring semi-final wins for the 2018 finalists, Stellenbosch University and North-West University Pukke went into the semis in the top and second log spots respectively.
In the first semi on Monday, Pukke – the 2016 champions – dismantled UJ 60-31 at the Fanie du Toit Stadium in Potchefstroom, while three-time winners Maties ran away with it and recorded a massive 65-18 victory over Wits at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.
It was Maties’ 11th semi-final appearance (they’ve played in every single one since the competition’s inception in 2008), while the University of Johannesburg have played in five playoffs, but have never progressed to a final.
In the second semi-final, which was a completely one-sided affair, Varsity Cup heavyweights Maties scored six tries to one in a first half that gave them too big a scoreboard advantage for Wits to fight back.
Wits, who first qualified for the competition in 2013, weren’t terrible in those first 40 minutes, but their scrums could certainly have gone better.
The turnovers they conceded against an on-fire Maties side didn’t help them at all either.
Not only did Maties put in an opening-half performance filled with speed, intensity, stunning interplay between backs and forwards, skill and team work that Wits just couldn’t handle, but the visitors also lost two men to the “afkoelstoel” through yellow cards.
Ironically, Maties actually had less possession than Wits in the first half (43% to 57%), but their clinical approach showed that it’s what you do with ball-in-hand that matters... and they kept ball-in-hand a lot.
In the second half, it took the hosts much longer to do any damage to Wits’ chances. Wing Duncan Saal – who’s enjoyed a stunning season – scored two tries after half time, while Janco Venter also added another one to make it a brace.
Munier Harzenberg added salt to Wits’ already-exposed rugby wounds with a try in the 82nd minute.
And while Wits looked more involved at times in the second half, they only managed to add one try after the changeroom chat and couldn’t stop Maties from booking yet another final spot.
In the first game on Monday, NWU overcame an early scare after fighting back from being 18-0 (two nine-point tries) down after five minutes in a Varsity Cup start that was one of the finest this season.
In the 10th minute, NWU got on the score-sheet, and a couple of minutes later, they ran in another one after some impressive mauling and moved to within four points of UJ after 15 minutes.
At the 30-minute mark, the team from the North West took the lead, and from there on, their fightback turned into domination.
While UJ never gave up and tried to stay in it, NWU proved just too strong and secured their place in a blockbuster Varsity Cup finale.
Pukke 60 – Tries: Louis van der Westhuizen (2), Tapiwa Mafura, Schalk Hugo, Chriswill September, AK Nela, Dean Stokes, Nkosana Mbatha. Conversions: Schalk Hugo (8).
UJ 31 – Tries: Ronald Brown, Odwa Nkunjana, Jan-Louis la Grange. Conversions: Kobus Engelbrecht (3). Penalties: Engelbrecht (2).
Maties 65 – Tries: Neethling Fouché, Johan van Niekerk, Chris Smith (2), Wilmar Arnoldi, Janco Venter (2), Duncan Saal (2), Munier Harzenberg. Conversions: Chris Smith (5). Penalties: Smith.
Wits 18 – Tries: Bin Kasende Kapekula, David Cary. Conversions: Christian Humphries (2).