JJ Gagiano making the defense work
FNB Maties held off a second-half UCT onslaught to earn a 23-17 victory in front of a jam-packed Danie Craven Stadium on a sweltering Monday Night in Stellenbosch.
It was a breathtaking match; one which showcased the best that the FNB Varsity Cup, has to offer and one which certainly lived up to its billing as the premier fixture in student rugby in South Africa – it was also a match that saw the visiting Ikeys outscore Maties by three tries to two.
UCT produced some thrilling moments in a game that could have gone either way, but in the end it was a clinical Maties team that capitalised on a some crucial Ikeys errors to hang on and maintain their unbeaten record in this year’s tournament.
The opening quarter was as you would expect in a derby battle between the tournament’s top two sides. The players, clearly buoyed by the tremendous atmosphere at a near capacity Danie Craven Stadium, flew into rucks with ferocity, and defensive markers were laid down early as the respective attacks tested each other in the early going.
Maties though, kicked with more distance and purpose than their UCT counterparts and much of the first twenty minutes play took place in UCT’s half.
Maties fullback Adnaan Oesman found some space on the left hand touchline, and found scrumhalf Johan Herbst on his inside. A great cover tackle by Ikeys No.14 Pete Haw snuffed out the possibility of a try, but UCT defenders went offside in their scramble to get back and flyhalf André Kemp had an opportunity to open the scoring for the home side. He duly obliged and it was 3-0 to Maties after 11 minutes.
Another straightforward penalty by the blonde-haired No.10 made the score 6-0, before a 20th min breakaway try by lock Andrew Prior gave the home side a 13-0 at the quarter mark.
UCT had been trying their best to create something with ball in hand, but were met by an almighty Maties defensive line. The visitors struggled to make any ground and were getting knocked back in the tackle by the well-structured and often vicious gang tackling by the Maties men
Flyhalf Matt Rosslee telegraphed an inside pass, and big Stellenbosch No. 4 Andrew Prior intercepted on the halfway line. Showing incredible speed for a man his size, Prior streaked away to score the first try of the game and send the maroon masses into delirium.
It was clear that UCT coach John Dobson had identified No.13 and beyond as the area which his side could hold the edge over their more fancied opponents, and they looked to attack out wide, with outside centre Marcel Brache – one of the finds of this year’s Varsity Cup – the man who looked most likely to break the sturdy Maties defensive line.
Even after going down 13-0 after Prior’s try, UCT stuck to their adventurous tactics, and it finally paid dividends in the 34th minute with a try to dangerous No.11 Marcello Sampson.
It may have been Sampson who finished off the move, but it was that man Brache who inspired the score – with his easy, gliding style of running once again asking questions of the otherwise staunch Maties defence.
He broke down the right, and quick recycled ball moved down the line via some slick handling by Rosslee, fullback Therlow Pietersen and flank Sam Peter – who put Sampson away to score in the corner.
That score got UCT back in the game – both psychologically and on the scoreboard (13-5), but a blatant hand at the bottom of a ruck by the otherwise brilliant JJ Gagiano allowed Maties to extend their lead and make it 16-5 at the break. The nine-point deficit could have been smaller had the usually reliable Rosslee been more accurate off the tee.
The second half started in Maties’ favour after another intercept, this time by centre Charl Weideman. A superman-style cover tackle by Brache stopped the No.12 from scoring, but the ball found its way to new Maties right wing Wilhelm Loock, who dived over on the right-hand touchline. A superb touchline conversion by Kemp made it 23-5 to the home side and seemingly out of sight of the Ikeys.
While that may have spelt the end of the road for any other team in the Varsity Cup, it only served to inspire this dogged UCT outfit. The men from Cape Town struck back immediately with a try of their own, this time by replacement back Mark Esterhuizen, who finished strongly after some well worked phase play by the Ikeys.
That score turned the visitors from a side who thought that they may have a chance at winning into a side that believed they could, and man for man, the Ikeys started to take on their opponents. Pacey right wing Pete Haw did so and won, breaking a tackle and putting Pietersen over to make it 23-17 and ensure a breathless final quarter.
Although no points were scored in the final twenty minutes, it was the most exciting period of the match, with UCT in particular producing some spectacular moments with ball in hand. Waves and waves of attack from the men in blue and white were repelled by the Maties, and in the end UCT could just not find the telling pass to break the stubborn resistance of the double defending champions.
The final whistle blew to raptures form the 18,000 strong crowd, but UCT can be proud of their part in a game that will go down as one of the most exciting in the tournament’s history.
It would certainly not be a surprise to see this fixture repeated when final time rolls around at the end of the month, and if this game is anything to go by, we may be in for a treat.
For FNB Maties:
Tries: Prior, Loock
Cons: Kemp 2
Pens: Kemp 3
For FNB UCT:
Tries: Sampson, Esterhuizen, Pietersen
The FNB Maties team: 15 Adnaan Oesman, 14 Wilhelm Loock, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Charl Weideman, 11 Tythan Adams, 10 André Kemp, 9 Johan Herbst, 8 Tertius Daniller, 7 Jonathan Adendorf, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Andrew Prior, 3 Lourens Adriaanse (captain), 2 Matthew Dobson, 1 Mike De Neuilly-Rice.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Crausaz, 17 Johan Roets, 18 Marinus Pretorius, 19 Cameron Peverett, 20 Johan Laker, 21 Hayden Groepes, 22 Jonathan Francke, 23 Buhle Mxunuywa.
Head coach: Chean Roux
The FNB UCT team: 15 Therlow Pietersen, 14 Pete Haw, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Sean van Tonder, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Matt Rosslee, 9 Stu Commins (captain), 8 JJ Gagiano (vice-captain), 7 Mike Morris, 6 Sam Peter, 5 Donovan Armand, 4 Mike Ledwidge, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Dayne Jans, 1 Ash Wells.
Replacements: 16 Mark Goosen, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Levi Odendaal, 19 Greg Mallett, 20 JP Robert, 21 Douglas Mallett, 22 Mark Esterhuizen, 23 Wesley Chetty.
Head coach: John Dobson
Referee: Dilbert November