Maties beat Pukke 40-7 in the Varsity Cup final in Stellenbosch on Monday to end a seven-year title drought. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Maroon Machine, helped by the dominance of their forwards, had the overwhelming majority of the ball, while a 10-minute period at the start of the second half effectively proving the difference between the sides.
The win was all the more meaningful for the hosts as it allowed them to reclaim their status as the Varsity Cup’s most successful team, with four titles.
The game was played at a frenetic pace early on, with Maties having a couple of opportunities at the line but some strong Pukke defending kept them at bay, while the visitors looked to general Schalk Hugo to get them up the field.
The hosts looked to release wings Duncan Saal and Edwill van der Merwe as quickly as they could, but Pukke were equal to the challenge as they kept the Maroon Machine at bay for the opening 10 minutes.
Maties were camping on the Pukke 5m line and won multiple scrum penalties before referee AJ Jacobs had no choice but to award a penalty try to the hosts.
Following the strategy break, Maties continued their assault. Pukke started to lose a bit of their composure as the visiting pack started to lose their battle with the Maties forwards. With the Maties pack advancing but the backline struggling to break through, flyhalf Chris Smith took the opportunity to slot a drop goal, keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
The visitors made Maties pay when a smart move from centre AK Nela set up a maul, eventually allowing No 8 Tiaan Bezuidenhout to power over the line, despite suspicions of obstruction. Hugo added the conversion to make it a three-point match at half-time.
The game was effectively won just after the break as the home side got off to a perfect start in the second half. First, Van der Merwe picked off a rare misplaced skip pass from Hugo and ran in under the poles for a seven-pointer. Smith slotted the conversion, suddenly making it a 12-point difference.
Maties second-rower Ernst van Rhyn thought he had scored when he powered over the line, but replays showed he had lost the ball forward in the process of trying to ground it, handing the visitors a lifeline.
However, his lock partner Johan Momsen made no such mistake when presented with a similar opportunity only minutes later, giving Maties an important buffer against any potential comeback from the visitors.
A brutal period followed as both sides threw everything at each other, with Pukke running the ball from all areas in a desperate attempt to get themselves back into the game.
But Maties all but ended the match when, with 10 minutes to go, they won a turnover just outside the Pukke 22 and released replacement back Munier Hartzenberg, who dived over near the posts, allowing Smith to slot an easier conversion.
The home side was not done there as substitute prop Ricky Nwagbara put the final nail in the coffin with a late try.
Maties – Tries: Penalty try, Edwill van der Merwe, Johan Momsen, Munier Hartzenberg, Rick Nwagbara. Conversions: Chris Smith (4). Drop goal: Smith.
Pukke – Try: Tiaan Bezuidenhout. Conversion Schalk Hugo.
Maties – 15 Reinardt Fortuin, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Michal Haznar, 12 Chris Smit, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Christopher Smith, 9 Remu Malan, 8 Marno Redelinghuys, 7 Janco Venter, 6 Johan van Niekerk, 5 Johan Momsen, 4 Ernst van Rhyn, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Wilmar Arnoldi, 1 Chippie Oelofse (c).
Subs: 16 Craig Corbett, 17 Ricky Nwagbara, 18 Piet-Louw Strauss, 19 Brandon Valentyn, 20 Stefan Streicher, 21 Brandon Nel, 22 Munier Hartzenberg, 23 Carlisle Nel.
Pukke – 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Jimmy Mpailane, 13 Evardi Boshoff, 12 AK Nela, 11 Dean Stokes, 10 Schalk Hugo, 9 Chriswill September, 8 Tiaan Bezuidenhout (c), 7 Estehan Visagie, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Johan Retief, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Louis van der Westhuizen, 1 Matimu Manganyi.
Subs: 16 Percy Mngadi, 17 Nelius Theron, 18 Theodore Ferreira, 19 Jaco Swanepoel, 20 Wandile Mazibuko, 21 Nkosana Mbatha, 22 Henko Marais, 23 Justin Newman.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images