PRETORIA - It is fitting that Tuks will host Maties in what will be a dream Varsity Cup final in Pretoria in two weeks’ time but it didn’t come easy.
Both Tuks and Maties were made to sweat for their place in the final by Shimlas and UJ respectively, but in the end the competition got the final of their dreams with the two bitter rivals set to clash in the showstopper match on the 10th anniversary of the tournament.
Tuks have undoubtedly been the team of the tournament, winning their last seven matches but their character was put to the test by the men from Bloemfontein who refused to surrender to the might of their much vaunted opponents.
Tuks eventually emerged 28-21 winners running in four tries to Shimals three in a tightly contested affair that went down to the wire at the Tuks Stadium.
While Tuks had looked set to run away with this game in the same manner they won 65-19 in Bloemfontein earlier in the competition, when they scored four tries in the first half hour of this encounter, Shimlas staged a dramatic second half comeback that had the game on a knife’s edge in the last 20 minutes.
Tuks had scored their tries, two to star wing Sibahle Manxwane and another to scrumhalf Andre Warner, with relative ease as their direct and expansive style of rugby seemed too much for Shimlas to handle in the opening exchanges.
But Tuks took their foot off the accelerator and offered the visitors a glimmer of hope at the end of the first half when flank Phumzile Maqondwana crashed over on the cusp of the half-time interval.
Maqondwana’s try handed the ascendency to Shimlas as they came out firing in the second half and were handsomely rewarded for their tireless endevour with two tries to Hanno Snyman in the 46th minute and Neil Claasen in the 57th minute to bring the visitors to within two points of Tuks.
However, the hosts were not going to be upstaged at home at the penultimate hurdle and fought valiantly in the closing minutes to score a well-organized rolling maul try by hooker Corneil Els.
Meanwhile in Stellenbosch, Maties booked their place in the final with a hard fought 22-14 win over UJ at the Danie Craven Stadium earlier in the day.
Maties ran in two tries, from Michal Haznar setting up wing Kyle Steyn and a well-engineered five pointer by fullback Craig Barry, with flyhalf Stapelberg converting one and slotting over three penalties.
UJ were left to rue the many missed opportunities especially early in the first half when centre Aphiwe Dyantyi broke clear only for fullback Ewan Adams to lose possession with the try-line at his mercy.
There were more opportunities for the visitors in the second half but they just could not convert pressure into points with the home side showing that their defence is as good as their attack.
The boot of UJ flyhalf Divan Nel had kept the visitors in the contest with two penalties and a drop-goal and while replacement Ronald Brown’s second half try made sure that UJ was within arm’s reach of Maties.
UJ almost pulled a rabbit-out-of-the-hat act in the dying moments of the game as they utilized the white card to query a penalty against them on the Maties try-line but it was unsuccessful and they could not stop Maties from marching to their sixth final in the decade long existence of the competition.