In 2006, Pukke powered their way to a second National Club Championship title in three years. When you look at what their rugby institute offers, itâ€™s obvious why they are so successful.
The North West University, with the help of former Springbok coach AndrÃ© Markgraaff, set up the Puk Rugby Institute in 2000. It aims to address four areas in rugby: tactical, technical, physical and psychological. It has five full-time coaches, three full-time sports scientists, three part-time sport psychologists, a full-time video operator and 10 part-time coaches.
The universityâ€™s substantial investment has paid off. Apart from winning the National Club Championship twice, in 2004 and 2006, they were beaten finalists in 2002 and 2003. Pukke have also won the Golden Lions Grand Pirates Challenge five times in a row, beating the University of Johannesburg (UJ) 20-19 in the 2006 final at Ellis Park.
In the FNB Super Bowl, a tournament involving South Africaâ€™s top eight universities, Pukke smashed Nelson Mandela Metropol University 50-19 in the final. They also beat the Tshwane University of Technology (Tut) and Free State University (Shimlas) earlier in the week. However, itâ€™s not just the first team that hogs the winnerâ€™s podium.The Pukke U19 side beat UJ 24-11 to win their Golden Lions league, and Pukke also won the second, third and fourth leagues.
Although the Potch club is used to having things their own way on the rugby field, their march to the 2006 National Club Championship crown was anything but easy. In fact, in a bizarre ruling they reached the final after drawing their semi-final 16-16 with Shimlas. Because they had scored more points in the second half, Pukke â€˜wonâ€™ the game, when in truth it was only a late try by fullback Riaan Smit that pulled them level.
Pukke had also needed a last-minute try to defeat Nelson Mandela Metro University 26-22 in their opening game. Had they lost, the heavyweights would have found themselves in the Plate competition from round two. Instead, they beat the University of Johannesburg 11-0 to reach the top four. In the decider, played in front of a decent crowd at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch, Pukke relied on the dominance of their forwards and a powerful midfield presence to end College Roverâ€™s hopes of a first national title.
After a good start by the Durban side in which they scored an early try for a 10-3 lead, Pukke took control, securing the majority of possession and using their loose forwards to take the ball up and get over the advantage line. Pukke No 8 Willem van de Wal was outstanding as a crash-baller and was deservedly named Man of the Match, despite leaving the field with a knee injury.
Centres Walter Venter and Robey Visser dominated the midfield battle, helping their side to two first-half tries and a deserved half-time lead. They kept up the pressure in the second half to run in a further two tries, before Rovers scored a late interception try.
Pukkeâ€™s success is perhaps unfair on other South African clubs when you consider the advantages they have in terms of resources and infrastructure. Many traditional clubs have gone so far as to suggest having a separate Club Championship for non-university sides. However, the alternative argument is that in sport, even at a club level, you get out what you put in. Scarily for their opponents, Pukke plan to make plenty more withdrawals in the years to come.