PRETORIA – Unbeaten this year and playing at home, Maties should walk their way to a record fourth Varsity Cup title tonight.
But hovering over them is the ghost of 2016 and the same team that defied fate and went against the script by denying the Stellenbosch-based side the Varisty Cup trophy in front of their adoring home crowd.
Two years ago, Pukke made the long trek from Potchefstroom to the winelands with many thinking they'd be lambs to the slaughter. But they refused to succumb to popular belief and what the rugby experts had predicted, with Jonathan Mokuena guiding them to a 7-6 win over Maties.
As much as it was a result against the odds, it was a deserved one after Pukke had painfully watched the title slip away from them through a late come-from-the-dead win by UCT Ikeys in the 2014 final in Potchefstroom.
And so Maties will go into tonight’s game with the mentality of once bitten, twice shy and they will be cautious of counting victory before it actually comes.
Pukke, on the other hand, won’t be relying on any ghosts from the past to aid their cause and instead Mokuena is encouraging his new-look team to make their own history and forget about what happened two years ago when their win sank Stellenbosch into a mild depression.
“2016 was good, but unfortunately what we did in 2016 doesn’t count for much,” Mokuena said.
“We need to forget about what happened in the past and focus on the opportunity that has presented itself for us on Monday. It’s going to be a big challenge, but that’s what rugby is about, if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.”
Maties have been ruthless this season enjoying big margin victories in most of their outings, while the two draws against Wits at home and Pukke away showed their unwavering character not to be defeated.
While Maties might believe and swear that theirs is the only way to victory, they will be wary of what Pukke will come with having hit the 60-point mark in their semi-final win against UJ, while Maties demolished Wits 65-18 in their semi.
Maties coach Hawies Fourie is fully aware of the threats that Pukke will bring, with the North West side at their best in an open and loose game that allows both their forwards and backs to run riot.
“Pukke have a physical pack of forwards and a skilful backline with a lot of speed. I expect them to make the game as quick and loose as possible. In Schalk Hugo they have a flyhalf that can kick with both feet and his ability to read the game and see space will test our back three,” said Fourie.
Meanwhile in the promotion/relegation match Walter Sisulu University will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of earning themselves a coveted place in the Varsity Cup when they face up against the Central University of Technology today.
The WSU All Blacks have enjoyed a stellar season losing only two matches, including the final, to one team in eventual Varsity Shield champions UWC and the East London-based side will be looking at keeping the Eastern Cape’s interest in the Varsity Cup alive after the relegation of the NMMU Madibaz this year.
The Maties team is:
Reinardt Fortuin, Duncan Saal, Michal Haznar, Chris Smit, Edwill van der Merwe, Christopher Smith, Remu Malan, Marno Redelinghuys, Janco Venter, Johan van Niekerk, Johan Momsen, Ernst van Rhyn, Neethling Fouche, Wilmar Arnoldi, Chippie Oelofse (captain). Replacements: Craig Corbett, Ricky Nwagbara, Piet-Louw Strauss, Brandon Valentyn, Stefan Streicher, Brandon Nel, Munier Hartzenberg, Carlisle Nel
The Pukke team is:
Tapiwa Mafura, Jimmy Mpailane, Evardi Boshoff, AK Nela, Dean Stokes, Schalk Hugo, Chriswill September, Tiaan Bezuidenhout, Estehan Visagie, Gideon van der Merwe, Walt Steenkamp, Johan Retief, Robert Hunt, Louis van der Westhuizen, Matimu Manganyi. Replacements: Percy Mngadi, Nelius Theron, Theodore Ferreira, Jaco Swanepoel, Wandile Mazibuko, Nkosana Mbatha, Henko Marais, Justin Newman
Venue: Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch