Maties will look to break a seven-year title drought when they host Pukke in the Varsity Cup final at the Danie Craven Stadium on Monday. DYLAN JACK reports.
In a repeat of the 2016 final, which Pukke won 7-6, the home side will undoubtedly be looking to exorcise the ghosts of that match.
Pukke, however, will want to replicate the heroics they showed in that game which gave them their very first title.
The visitors have only lost one match this season, an 18-15 defeat to Ikeys in Cape Town, and have shown good form since, going unbeaten through the rest of the season.
They will face opponents who have yet to taste defeat this season, despite closely fought draws against Wits (30-30) and Pukke themselves (33-33).
The Maroon Machines’ season has been boosted by the leadership of captain Neil Oelofse as well as experienced campaigners such as flyhalf Chris Smith and flying wing Duncan Saal, who has 10 tries to his name.
Pukke boast a destructive backline of their own. Jonathan Mokuena’s men have been well guided by the boot of flyhalf Schalk Hugo, while fullback Tapiwa Mafura has been in exceptional form this season.
Mokeuna said his side’s victory in 2016 will count for little when they take to the field on Monday evening.
‘2016 was good, but unfortunately what we did in 2016 doesn’t count for much on Monday. 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 coach Hawies Fourie is expecting Pukke to play expansively despite the pressure that comes with a final.
‘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 Hugo, they have a flyhalf who can kick with both feet and his ability to read the game and see space will test our back-three.’
Should Maties come out victorious, they will extend their record as the most successful Varsity Cup team with four titles.
Kick-off is at 19:00 and the match will be broadcast live on SuperSport 1.
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: Barco Greeff/Varsity Cup