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Home News A thrilling end to Varsity Cup 2022

A thrilling end to Varsity Cup 2022

Rugby 3 May 2022

It was a final that had it all – pulsating action across the 80 minutes played, a boisterous crowd on the edge of their seats, sensational scores, try-saving tackles, a pinch of controversy, and a come-from-behind victory at the death to set off a dazzling fireworks display fit for the occasion.

South Africa’s biggest and most prestigious annual university rugby tournament, the Varsity Cup, reached its crescendo on Monday, 27 April, as the competition’s two most successful sides – the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University – met in the highly-anticipated final.

Varsity Cup 3All photos courtesy of the Varsity Cup Consisting of ten of the country’s top university rugby teams, the 2022 Varsity Cup was back with a bang this year, following last year’s watered-down event played in a bio-secure bubble, according to the sanctions put in place amid the global pandemic.

With an easing of nationwide restrictions in South Africa, university sport-starving spectators were allowed back in the stadia ahead of Matchday 1 of this year’s edition on Valentine’s Day. Nationwide television coverage, major sponsorship backing, and serious hype all fueled the flames of what was set to be an enthralling competition.

And there was no love lost between the eventual finalists, who met in a heavyweight clash in Round 1 in a repeat of last year’s semi-final. Stellenbosch University – more commonly known as Maties – earned their revenge with a hard-fought 19-9 win over defending champions Tuks, the nickname of the University of Pretoria.

The two powerhouses of South African university rugby would however be outshined in the group stages, as the University of the Free State soared to the summit of the standings, scoring over 50 points on four separate occasions to top the table after all nine round robin matches. Behind them were the ever-dangerous University of Cape Town, who won seven of their nine group stage matches, as Maties and Tuks rounded out the top four to secure their semi-final spots.

The first semi-final saw Stellenbosch hit back after their 44-27 group stage loss to overpower the University of Cape Town 58-19, while Tuks put an end to the hopes of log-leaders University of the Free State, edging them 29-21 to book their ticket in the final to defend last year’s crown.

Played at a packed Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch, Maties had the wind in their sails from the start of the final. Backed by a vocal home crowd, Stellenbosch opened the scoring with a well-worked try just four minutes into the game. Their relentless pressure forced the visitors into several first half errors , with the five penalties conceded giving Maties a 20-10 lead at the break.

The momentum shifted in the second stanza however, as the reigning Varsity Cup champions showcased their pedigree. A superb try, and even better try-saving tackle at the other end of the pitch, saw the Maties lead cut down to just three points, the scoreboard reading 23-20 with just ten minutes left in the game.

The scales then tipped in Tuks’ favour with three minutes left on the clock. Full-back Stefan Coetzee barged his way upfield before off-loading to Bernard van der Linde to dot down the tournament-winning try, but not before the Television Match Official was called in to check that Coetzee’s pass in the build-up was not forward.

Much to the dismay and disappointment of the home crowd, the try stood withTuks emerging 29-23 victors in dramatic circumstances, making it back-to-back Varsity Cup successes.Varsity Cup 2All photos courtesy of the Varsity Cup

Tuks coach Nico Luus acknowledged he had to change his tactics after the home side’s strong start to the final, and was proud of how his charges reacted.

“Maties played brilliantly in the first 20 minutes,” he said after the final whistle. “We were just sort of hanging in there. Maties dominated in the scrums and lineouts, but we won the small battles.

“During half-time, I made a few tactical changes. It paid off. In the latter stages of the game, our forwards started to dominate.

“All and all, it was a fantastic team effort. I am so proud of the team.”

Player of the Match Stephan Smit could not hide his elation and pride in representing his university in the competition. “It has been a privilege to be one of the boys,” he said. “We showed character when it mattered. We had to as part of Tuks’ sports culture is to never give up. You can’t give up if you play to honour Tuks’ stripes.”

The University of Pretoria’s success means they equal Stellenbosch University as the most successful team in the Varsity Cup with five titles to their name. No doubt this fierce rivalry will continue with even greater interest following this year’s Varsity Cup championship that will live long in the memory of the South African university rugby fraternity.

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