UP-Tuks held out against a brave comeback from UCT for a 34-27 win in the Varsity Cup final to claim their fourth title in Pretoria on Monday.
Matchflow: This was another classic Varsity Cup final, as the game ebbed and flowed, with both teams having their periods of domination.
Ultimately, opening up a 21-point lead just before the half-time break proved to be crucial for UP-Tuks, as it gave them enough of a cushion to hold out as UCT launched a massive comeback in the second half.
The first half did belong to the home side, as they had the better of territory. Both teams were engaged in the kicking duel, with Zander du Plessis and James Tedder intent on outdoing each other as UCT would not give in to the temptation to run the ball back at Tuks.
While the two sides initially went blow for blow, UP-Tuks scored three times in the final 10 minutes of the half, which included Du Plessis’ first penalty and tries from prop Ethienne Janneke and the outstanding Hanru Sirgel.
That left UCT with a mountain to climb in the second half, as they received a further blow when Tedder had to be helped from the field with a knee injury and was replaced by David Hayes in the 36th minute.
However, the Cape side must have heard some inspiring words at the break as they came out firing. It took them just two minutes to get their second try when hooker Josh van Vuuren scored from the back of a maul.
That definitely got the Ikey Tigers’ tails up as they continued to dominate territory and possession, with 63% of the game being played in Tuks’ half. The visitors did turn down three kickable penalties during this period – which would have brought them to within five points of Tuks’ lead – in their search for a try.
Plaudits have to be given to the home side’s defence that withstood multiple maul efforts in their own 22, while they did excellently to disrupt UCT’s lineout.
Just when it seemed time was running out for UCT, they were given an extra glimmer of hope as livewire fullback Athi Gazi scored a quick-fire brace in the final 10 minutes of the match, while Tuks lost No 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout to a yellow card.
However, Tuks were able to win a penalty, which Du Plessis converted, before the fullback sent his kick-off deep into UCT territory, leaving them with the fruitless task of attacking from their own 22. As it happened, Tuks were able to win a turnover and boot the ball out to claim the trophy.
Key Moment: There were plenty of smaller moments in the second half that proved decisive in Tuks holding on to claim the win. However, it was ultimately those last 10 minutes of the first half that swung the result of the game towards the home side.
This is especially as UCT lost Tedder, who was UCT’s key player through the tournament. The flyhalf was a doubt before the match, but passed a late fitness test at the 11th hour after originally being ruled out. His replacement, Hayes, actually did a very good job, kicking accurately into touch and proving a nuisance when carrying the ball to the line.
Players that Rocked: UP-Tuks flank Hanru Sirgel was the outstanding player of the final, as he was responsible for numerous turnovers in the second half and was generally a thorn in stopping the UCT maul. He also scored a crucial try after the half-time hooter had sounded, forcing his way over from close range.
Zander du Plessis showed his composure in tough situations and his kicking was again key for the home side. Together with wing Stefan Coetzee, the duo caused havoc among the UCT backline in the first half.
UCT’s players also deserve a shout-out. Captain Liam Greenhalgh was tireless in his efforts, as were locks Byron Cranswick and Byron Bowes and flank Neil Ottow. Fullback Gazi did not get too many opportunities to work his magic, but it was his tries that gave his side hope when they most needed it.
UCT Ikeys – Tries: Robert Hunt, Josh van Vuuren, Athi Gazi (2). Conversions: James Tedder, David Hayes. Penalty: Tedder.
UP-Tuks – Tries: Cebo Dlamini, Sango Xamlashe, Ethienne Janneke, Hanru Sirgel. Conversions: Zander du Plessis (3). Penalties: Du Plessis (2).
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.