Doug Mallet unleashes his attack
The UCT Ikey Tigers claimed a third home semifinal in a row, after beating FNB Tuks 38-24 in a hard-fought Varsity Cup encounter at a windy Groote Schuur on Monday night.
UCT made a great start to the game, with a massive scrum pushing Tuks off their ball only five metres from the visitors’ line.
The tighthead gave UCT the ball and after Tuks transgressed in defence, Douglas Mallett (who had a rare start at flyhalf ahead of Matt Rosslee) knocked over the simple penalty to give UCT an early 3-0 lead.
Playing into a strong wind on UCT’s infamous ‘Green Mile’, Tuks could not kick out of their own half and tried to run their way out of trouble. The mistake inevitably came, and with UCT getting quick turnover ball inside opposition territory, it did not take long for the Ikeys to break through the Tuks defence.
Burly prop Grant Kemp got the ball in space and burst through a tackle and smashed over for the opening try, ten minutes in. Mallett’s conversion made it 10-0 and it looked as if the home side would have far too much firepower for the Men from Pretoria in this FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International fixture.
But the comfortable start was a false dawn for the Ikeys, and they were own worst enemies for the rest of a half played with the assistance of a strong gust.
Despite having a much stronger pack, UCT struggled to control their own ball at scrum-time and gave up a lot of ball at the set-piece in a messy first half of rugby.
On defence, the Ikeys players were lethargic and their one-on-one tackling was especially poor – allowing Tuks to run at them and make good ground. Tuks, for their part, tried to create something with ball in hand, but for the most part their attack was not threatening enough.
Mallett extended the lead to make it 13-0 at the quarter mark, but Tuks’ advantage in the possession stakes eventually bore fruit as big lock Franco Mostert crashed over after a continued assault on the UCT line.
As half-time approached, UCT finally showed signs of getting into gear, with some slick hands through the backline putting impressive centre Mark Esterhuizen into space. Straight, hard running and a clever dummy by the No.13 saw him dive over on the left-hand touchline and, after a superb conversion from Mallett, it was 20-7 to the Tigers.
That breathing space was almost immediately choked on though, as a suicidal long pass was caught up in the wind – gifting Oswin Mentoor an intercept and a clear run to the line. So 20-7 became 20-12 going into the break, and although the lead was eight points, it would have not been the most pleasant of half-time chats from UCT coach John Dobson and his coaching staff, knowing they had to contend with playing into a stiff breeze for the second half.
But whatever was said in the change-room seemed to work, as UCT returned to the field a more determined, and far more fired-up unit.
Replacement prop Chris Heiberg drew the first real cheers from the modest UCT crowd with a bullocking run that gave the Ikeys a good platform from which to attack.
And attack they did. The players looked far more composed and they set-up phases close to the Tuks line, which finished with impressive No.8 JJ Gagiano crashing over to extend the lead to 13.
That score sparked UCT into a period of dominance, and they showed signs of the adventure that have made them such an exciting team to watch in this year’s Varsity Cup.
Strong running by fullback Marcel Brache, wing Pete Haw and flank Sam Peter got UCT entrenched in the Tuks half. A massive shove on the Tuks ball saw the ball bobble free on their own five-metre and scrumhalf Stu Commins – who had a great game, and walked off with the Man of the Match honours – was on hand to pick up and dive over to give UCT a 20-point lead, effectively ending the match as a contest. Mallett, meanwhile, continued his great night with the boot – knocking over the conversion to further extend the lead.
Tuks, to their great credit, refused to give up and accept defeat, and they managed to hit back with two tries of their own to make the score look more respectable.
Captain Shaun Davids and replacement back Stanley Twiname got their names on the scorecard to earn Tuks a bonus point, while replacement Rosslee took over where Mallett left off with a penalty to make the final score 38-24.
In the end, it was a good result for UCT and they will be happy to have a semifinal on home turf next Monday – for the third season in a row – but they will know that they will need to improve if they are to have a shot at winning their first-ever Varsity Cup crown.
For FNB UCT:
Tries: Kemp, Esterhuizen, Gagiano, Commins
Cons: Mallett 3
Pens: Mallett 3, Rosslee
For FNB Tuks:
Tries: Mostert, Mentoor, Davids, Twiname
Cons: Smith 2
UCT: 15 Marcel Brache, 14 Pete Haw, 13 Mark Esterhuizen, 12 Sean van Tonder, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Douglas Mallett, 9 Stu Commins (captain), 8 JJ Gagiano (vice-captain), 7 Mike Morris, 6 Sam Peter, 5 Donovan Armand, 4 Levi Odendaal, 3 Grant Kemp, 2 Mark Goosen, 1 Ash Wells.
Replacements: 16 Matt Page, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Mike Ledwidge, 19 Nick Fenton-Wells, 20 JP Robert, 21 Matt Rosslee, 22 Zubayr Abrahams, 23 Wesley Chetty.
Tuks: 15 Shaun Davids (captain), 14 Dirk Dippenaar, 13 Ernie Kruger, 12 Gertjie Smith, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Ettiene Greeff, 8 Dan Nichols, 7 Oswin Mentoor, 6 Marius Weber, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Tiaan Nel, 3 Hein Viljoen, 2 Chris Crous, 1 Corné Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Sylvester Booysen, 17 Musa Tukela, 18 Joe Walters, 19 Ntokoza Mashele, 20 Louis van Biljon, 21 Terrence Jacobs, 22 Stanley Twiname, 23 Peet Vorster.
Referee: Tiaan Jonker