The University of Johannesburg scored a try in the final 10 minutes to seal an enthralling 29-24 victory over rivals Wits in a Varsity Cup derby at UJ Stadium on Monday night.
With the win, UJ continue their incredible upturn in form this season under new head coach Jonathan Mokoena, after a difficult 2021 where they finished bottom of the table.
To illustrate that, UJ are now in contention for a playoff place, although their major focus this year will be on finishing as high as they can as this is a promotion-relegation season.
Prior to kick-off, UJ sat in a precarious position as the ninth-placed side on the combined 2021-22 Varsity Cup log. As per tournament regulations, the teams that finish at ninth and 10th at the end of this season will be automatically relegated to the Varsity Shield. The result sees UJ moving out of the relegation zone – for now. In the context of the current season, they remain in the hunt for a spot in the semi-finals.
Despite having much the better of the scrum battle, UJ struggled to hold on to the ball and had to defend for long periods of the match. There was one notable period in the first half where the hosts saw off 26 phases of attack from Wits before conceding a penalty.
Still, UJ were far more clinical in the first half and took a 14-3 lead into the break through tries from hooker Darnell Osuagwu and wing Ilunga Mukendi.
The closest Wits came to scoring a try in the first half came when scrumhalf Hlumelo Ndudula appeared to get a finger on to the ball over the tryline, but the TMO ruled it to be a knock-on.
The second half belong to Wits as, after Shaun Baxter extended UJ’s lead to 14 points through a penalty won from another dominant scrum, the visitors kicked into action. First, fullback Setshaba Mokoena, excellent with his control of the game from the back, scored a well-taken try before No 8 Phillip Krause drove over from short range to suddenly level the scores at 17-17.
Wits appeared to have laid a decisive blow when, after Mokoena kicked another 50/22, outside centre Luhle Matyolweni scored his first Varsity Cup try to put them in the lead for the first time in the match.
However, UJ made the most of a penalty when a quick tap set Likhaya Tengimfene free out wide and he passed on his inside to put Kelvin Kanenungo over for a point-of-origin try. Baxter converted from the touchline to allow UJ to retake the lead.
The dramatic finish continued as Wits won a penalty from the subsequent kick-off to give themselves one last chance to snatch it. However, true to character, UJ defended staunchly and forced the knock-on with time up on the clock to claim bragging rights.
UJ – Tries: Darnell Osuagwu, Ilunga Mukendi, Kelvin Kanenungo. Conversions: Shaun-Christian Baxter (3). Penalty: Baxter (2).
Wits – Tries: Setshaba Mokoena, Phillip Krause, Luhle Matyolweni. Conversions: Chris Humphries (2). Penalty: Humphries.
UJ – 15 Nqubeko Mkwanazi, 14 Likhaya Tengimfene, 13 Musawenkosi Tshabalala, 12 Indiphile Tyeda, 11 Ilunga Mukendi, 10 Shaun Baxter, 9 Mpho Kubheka, 8 Kelvin Kanenungo (c-c), 7 CJ Masuku, 6 Johannes Terblanche (c-c), 5 Brendon Pawson, 4 Philip Apea-Adu, 3 Frans Bezuidenhout, 2 Darnell Osuagwu, 1 Kayden Kiewit.
Subs: 16 Hloni Mphuthi, 17 Elizee Kwitonda, 18 Ntokozo Hlophe, 19 Connor van Buuren, 20 Babalo Makana, 21 Buhlebenkosi Qaba, 22 Kgothatso Sono, 23 Rowan Malgas.
Wits – 15 Setshaba Mokoena, 14 Wian de Lange, 13 Luhle Matyolweni, 12 Tiaan Schutte, 11 Azi Afrika, 10 Chris Humphries, 9 Hlumelo Ndudula, 8 Phillip Krause, 7 Lindokuhle Ncusane, 6 Mark Snyman, 5 Edward White, 4 Cal Smid, 3 Ebot Buma (c), 2 Prince Mulea, 1 Jason Cloete.
Subs: 16 Dagan Meuwese, 17 Mikhaya Sonqishe, 18 Franco Groenewald, 19 Kyle van Eyssen, 20 Alexander Skudder, 21 Wernich Aucamp, 22 Keagan Lailvaux, 23 Siyabonga Xulu.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/[email protected] Photo AGENCY for Varsity/ Asem Engage