FNB UCT scored three tries in the last five minutes to beat NWU-Pukke 39-33 in Potchefstroom and claim their second FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International title.
The home side looked to have their first-ever title wrapped up with a 33-15 lead heading into the final stages of a pulsating final, but the Ikeys refused to give in and somehow found a way to get over the line and break NWU-Pukke hearts.
Tries from Michael Botha, Dean Grant and Nathan Nel saw the Cape side stage one of the greatest comebacks in the seven-year history of the competition and leave the capacity crowd at the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds stunned.
The visitors got off to a flying start as a flowing backline move saw outside centre Huw Jones hit a gap out wide and surge over for the opening try to put them 5-0 up, with flyhalf Dean Grant’s conversion attempt hitting the upright.
That silenced the capacity crowd in Potchefstroom but they did not have to wait long to find their voice as a series of strong driving mauls from NWU-Pukke put them right on the Ikeys’ tryline.
UCT soaked up the pressure well and forced a knock-on, but NWU-Pukke were back in their 22 soon enough as they launched another sustained attack.
The home side were rewarded for their dominance when a well-timed pass from captain Tiaan Dorfling put Rhyk Welgemoed through a gap, and there was no stopping the big flank as he thundered over the tryline.
NWU-Pukke had all of the momentum and they increased their lead shortly afterwards as good hands down the backline saw left wing Luther Obi score in the corner.
That gave them a 13-5 advantage at the first strategy break after an intense opening 20 minutes which had seen flashes of brilliance from both teams.
A great kick from Grant put UCT on the attack, and although NWU-Pukke managed to hold them out they suffered a major blow when captain Dorfling was stretchered off with an injury.
It was end-to-end stuff as Ikeys flank Jason Klaasen won a crucial turnover on the 22 after a jinking run from Sylvian Mahuza, and the counter attack saw wing Richard Stewart score in the corner after fullback Ross Jones-Davies had made good ground up the middle of the park.
Grant could not land the conversion that would have levelled the scores, but UCT were right back in the game with the deficit down to 13-10.
The home side thought they had scored just before half-time when replacement scrumhalf Dillon Smit raced away after UCT had coughed the ball up on attack, but joy turned to misery for the home crowd when the TMO ruled that NWU-Pukke centre Johan Deysel had committed a reckless tackle.
The midfielder was shown a yellow card which was a double blow for his team as they were reduced to 14 men and denied a certain try.
The Ikeys looked to have struck on the stroke of half-time, but a desperate tackle from NWU-Pukke flyhalf Johnny Welthagen saved the day for his team who went into the break with a slender 13-10 lead.
NWU-Pukke made a determined start to the second half and hammered away at the UCT defence with a series of strong drives before hooker Armand van der Merwe powered his way over from close range.
That gave them an eight-point buffer, but they were reduced to 14 men once again soon afterwards when tighthead prop Nhlanhla Ngcamu was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Liam Slatem.
However, that did not seem to slow them down as Smit slotted a penalty to take their lead out to ten points at 20-10.
UCT needed a response to get back into the game and they got it from a driving maul, with the hard-working Klaasen crashing over to cut the deficit to 20-15 at the second strategy break.
UCT were cut down to 14 men after a cynical infringement from wing Lihleli Xoli on their tryline and Van der Merwe thought he had gone over for his second try straight afterwards, but the TMO ruled that it had been a double movement.
To their credit NWU-Pukke did not let that ruffle them and they marched straight back into the UCT 22 where Smit was able to force his way over for the fourth try which took their lead out to 28-15.
Big lock Francois Robbertse added another try and it looked as though NWU-Pukke had put the game beyond the Ikeys, but the Cape side refused to say die and they were rewarded in the most dramatic style.
Grant managed to convert tries from himself and Botha before Nel broke free in extra time to plunge a dagger into NWU-Pukke hearts and send his teammates into ecstacy.
For FNB NWU-Pukke:
Tries: Welgemoed, Obi, Van der Merwe, Smit, Robbertse
Cons: Dorfling, Smit
For FNB UCT:
Tries: Jones, Stewart, Klaasen, Botha, Grant, Nel
Cons: Grant 3
Yellow cards: Johan Deysel (NWU-Pukke, 37 mins – Dangerous tackle), Nhlanhla Ngcamu (NWU-Pukke, 51 mins – Dangerous tackle) Lihleli Xoli (UCT, 62 mins – Professional foul)
FNB NWU-Pukke: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Edmar Marais, 13 Jaap Pienaar, 12 Johan Deysel, 11 Luther Obi, 10 Johnny Welthagen, 9, Tiaan Dorfling (captain), 8 Juan Language, 7 Henro-Pierre Swart, 6 Rhyk Welgemoed, 5 Francois Robbertse, 4 Peet van der Walt, 3 Nhlanhla Ngcamu, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Mashudu Mafela.
Replacements: 16 Marius Fourie, 17 Johan Smith, 18 Daniel Jordaan, 19 Philip de Wet, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Rhyno Smith, 22 Lucien Cupido, John-Roy Jenkinson.
FNB UCT: 15 Ross Jones-Davies, 14 Richard Stewart, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Guy Schwikkard, 11 Lihleli Xoli, 10 Dean Grant, 9 Liam Slatem, 8 Michael Botha, 7 Vince Jobo, 6 Jason Klaasen, 5 James Kilroe, 4 Shaun McDonald, 3 Digby Webb, 2 Neil Rautenbach, 1 Joel Carew.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Robin Murray, 18 Kyle Kriel, 19 Guy Alexander, 20 James Alexander, 21 Martin Sauls, 22 Nathan Nel, 23 David Maasch.
Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Francois Pretorius, Jaco Kotze
TMO: Johan Greeff