Unbeaten UCT will go into Monday night’s Varsity Cup decider as favourites, but UP-Tuks appear to be peaking at the right time of the tournament.
UCT and UP-Tuks will finally meet in this year’s FNB Varsity Cup after their round-six clash was cancelled following three Covid-19 positive tests in the hosts’ camp. At that stage, the Ikey Tigers had won their first five matches and were expected to beat a Tukkies team that had lost to FNB Maties.
UCT went on to top the Varsity Cup log for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2008, with eight wins from eight completed matches, while UP-Tuks finished third after losing to CUT in their final league-stage fixture.
However, Tukkies’ impressive 44-35 semi-final win over Maties suggests they are ready to ambush UCT in the final.
‘That was our best performance this season and exactly how we want to play,’ UP-Tuks coach Nico Luus told VarsityCup.co.za. ‘There is a belief in the team now that was perhaps lacking during the second bubble and I can’t wait for the final.’
The Ikey Tigers made a nervous start to their semi-final against the NWU Eagles, falling 15-0 behind after as many minutes, before scoring eight tries to win 54-36.
‘We hadn’t played in a semi-final for six years, so I expected the guys to be nervous,’ says UCT coach Tom Dawson-Squibb. ‘We saw that with a couple of glaring errors early on when covering our backfield. But from the 15-minute mark, we were almost flawless in that area of the game. So, I’m really happy with how we were able to adapt and once we got our attacking game going, we looked really good.’
The Ikey Tigers suffered a big blow just before kick-off when star flyhalf James Tedder was ruled out of the semi-final having failed to recover from a concussion, but Tedder’s replacement, David Hayes, more than filled his boots to win the Player That Rocks award.
Hayes is set to wear the No 10 jersey in the final too after Tedder’s name was absent from the matchday 23 named on Monday morning.
‘David’s actually played a lot of rugby during this tournament, so we were less worried about losing James than some outside of the camp,’ says Dawson-Squibb. ‘James has been targeted during the tournament, which is what happened when he got a high shot against the Madibaz, so we’ve often replaced him with David during a game.’
UCT have ‘massive respect’ for UP-Tuks, according to Dawson-Squibb.
‘They were the pre-tournament favourites, playing at home and with massive resources, which we’ve all seen while staying here over the past couple of months. They’re a physical, well-drilled side with a former Springbok defence coach [John McFarland].’
So, where will Monday’s final be won and lost?
‘It’s no secret that both teams use their kicking games quite cleverly, but I think it will come down to the balance between physicality and tempo,’ says Dawson-Squibb. ‘Tuks want to bash you into smithereens but they do it at a good pace. We’ve got to handle that and move them around the field. We believe in ourselves and are very confident in our gameplan.
‘We expect a physical game and we will be physical,’ says Luus. ‘We will also rely a lot on [fullback] Zander du Plessis and [flyhalf] David Coetzer as far as our kicking game is concerned. But I believe the final will be determined by small margins.’
UCT Ikeys – 15 Athi Gazi, 14 Rihaz Fredericks, 13 Evardi Boshoff, 12 Le Roux Malan, 11 Rethabile Louw, 10 James Tedder, 9 William Rose, 8 Christian Stehlik, 7 Niel Otto, 6 Liam Greenhalgh (c), 5 Gary Porter, 4 Byron Cranswick, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Devon Arendse, 1 Luthando Woji.
Subs: 16 Josh van Vuuren, 17 Seth Christian, 18 Ashwyn Adams, 19 Byron Bowes, 20 Taariq Kruger, 21 Kyle Bowman, 22 David Hayes, 23 Duran Koevort.
UP-Tuks – 15 Zander du Plessis, 14 Stefan Coetzee, 13 Sango Xamlashe (c), 12 Louritz van der Schyff, 11 Ambesa Zenzeli, 10 David Coetzer, 9 Clyde Lewis, 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout, 7 Hanru Sirgel, 6 Eduan Lubbe, 5 Thomas Meyer, 4 Mihlali Stamper, 3 Damien Swartz, 2 Werner Fourie, 1 Cebo Dlamini.
Subs: 16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Dewald Donald, 18 Etienne Janeke, 19 Orateng Koikanyang, 20 Stephan Smit, 21 Johan Mulder, 22 Enrique Oranje, 23 Tharquin Manuel.
FACTS & STATS
- This is a repeat of the 2011 final, which UCT won 26-16 at Tuks Stadium. The Ikey Tigers’ other Varsity Cup title came in 2014, while Tukkies lifted the trophy in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
- UCT come into the 2021 final unbeaten. It is the third consecutive Varsity Cup that a team enters the final unbeaten, with Maties having gone on to win the title in both 2018 and 2019.
- The home team has won eight of the previous 12 FNB Varsity Cup finals, including the last three. The last time the away team won the final was when NWU beat Maties at the Danie Craven Stadium in 2016. Both of UCT’s Varsity Cup titles were won away from home.
- UCT are on a nine-game winning run in the Varsity Cup (excluding the cancelled fixture against FNB UP-Tuks), their longest in the history of the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
UCT flyhalf James Tedder was a late withdrawal from the Ikeys lineup before their semi-final after failing to recover from a concussion sustained from a high tackle during their last league-stage match against the Madibaz and he was also missing from the match 23 named for the final. Tedder is the second top-point scorer in the tournament (105) and his tactical kicking and game management have been crucial for his team. Fortunately for UCT, they have a more than capable replacement in David Hayes, who won the Player That Rocks award after their semi-final win against NWU. The 21-year-old scored a seven-point try and kicked four conversions.
UP-Tuks fullback Zander du Plessis broke UCT flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis’ record of 136 points in an Varsity Cup season during their semi-final against Maties and will go into Monday’s decider with his tally on 145. If the final is tight, the 21-year-old’s boot could be decisive.
Photo: Catherine Kotze/SASPA