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19 April 2018 | in NUSF News, Rugby

'Maties' Crowned South Africa University Rugby Champions

The University of Stellenbosch finally put their demons to bed, making it third time lucky after being crowned South Africa’s Varsity Cup champions in an entertaining final on Monday evening.

 

The Varsity Cup, which pits South Africa’s eight best rugby-playing universities against each other in a prestigious annual tournament, has been in existence since 2008, yet after winning the first three editions between 2008-2010, the University of Stellenbosch – nicknamed ‘Maties’ – were desperate to add to their record three titles, having lost four finals in the past seven years.

 

Unbeaten the entire tournament, the Western Cape-based side won six and drew two of their pool matches, ending top of the table before demolishing Wits University 65-18 in the semi-finals to book their place in their eighth final of the tournament’s 11-year history.

 

<All photos credit: Thys Lombard>

 

Opponents North West University – known as ‘Pukke’ – ended the pool stages in second place on the table, recording six wins, a draw and a loss, before comprehensively beating the University of Johannesburg 60-31 in their semi-final to book a final date against Maties.

 

Having played out a thrilling 33-all draw in the pool stages just three weeks earlier, an entertaining final was expected, with Maties having the advantage of playing at home in front of a partisan and festive Stellenbosch crowd.

 

And having lost the last two finals in a row, going down 7-6 to the very same Pukke side in 2016 and 28-21 to the University of Pretoria in last year’s final, Maties were desperate to avoid a third straight final defeat as they started this year’s showdown the stronger of the two sides. They were rewarded for their early pressure and effort after being awarded a penalty try following a strong scrum, before Christopher Smith slotted home a drop goal to make it 10-0 after half-an-hour.

 

Pukke were quick in their response though as Tiaan Bezuidenhout crashed over the line from a rolling maul, reducing the hosts’ lead to just three points at the half-time break as the scoreboard read 10-7 in favour of Maties.

 

 

The second half was a one-way affair however, as the 18 500 fans that filled the Danie Craven Stadium were treated to a rugby spectacle by their home team. Edwill van der Merwe’s intercept try made for a perfect start to the second period for Maties as they extended their lead, before Johan Momsen, Munier Hartzenberg and Ricky Nwagbara all crossed the whitewash, with Smith adding four conversions, as Maties ran out comfortable 40-7 winners at full-time.

 

With the pressure mounting after two successive final losses, Maties coach Hawies Fourie said he had told his players not to focus on that and merely enjoy this year’s showdown heading into the decider.

 

“We decided to take all the pressure away from the players as much as we could,” he told SARugbymag.co.za. “We didn't speak about the previous two finals. We knew that everyone would ask about the past two years, but we instructed the players to get away from the question as quickly as possible.“

 

“It was a new team and a new season and we couldn't do anything about the past. What we have learned is that we were a bit too tense before the finals. This year we decided to enjoy the preparation and enjoy the week leading up to the final. We let the players be as calm as can be and that made a massive difference in our approach.”

 

The victory was even sweeter for Remu Malan, captain Niel Oelofse, Duncan Saal, Chris Smit, Chris Smith and Janco Venter, the only six players to have played in the last three finals as they finally tasted victory at the third attempt.

 

 

Pukke did have something to smile about despite the loss, as lock Walt Steenkamp was named the FNB Player That Rocks award for the Player of the Tournament, while the two other individual prizes on offer went to Maties duo Duncan Saal and Marno Redelinghuys, who were picked up the FNB Back That Rocks and FNB Forward That Rocks awards respectively.